In any restaurant, scene-setting and atmosphere - from the outside in - are almost as important as the food. No matter how attractive a building or the decor may be in itself, it's just like a theatrical set.
The 'directors' and 'actors' have to take it from there. The welcome needs to be warm, the lighting needs to be right, as does the music, which has to have the right vibe for the time of day. There is an art in that alone. Just think of how big retailers orchestrate their music to encourage buyers.
When we arrived at Bakers, described on their website as a "friendly neighbourhood restaurant", it looked so dark from the outside, it wasn't inviting; in fact we thought it was closed. As we were about to depart, I said to himself, "I see a glimmer of a candle, go in and check it out."
He emerged confirming it was open, but he couldn't see anyone inside. In fact, there were two lots of people tucked away in some comfortable-looking booths, but we could so easily have gone off to the brighter lights of other eateries in the area.
It's tucked away in a little stretch of new shops 'on the bend' in Donnybrook village, where commuters and locals will be familiar with the array of farm-animal sculptures on a little green patch outside. The compact exterior also belies the size of this place, which has really attractive urban-warehouse decor.
To the front is a spacious area, some high stools and tables, a couple of booths and, in a separate rear section, another area with a long banquette facing the kitchen hatch. Hipster check shirts seemed to be the dress code for the chap and the couple of young women on the floor, who showed us to a pleasant corner table.
Things were looking good as we were brought some nice breads and olive oils and a carafe of water. We weren't offered a wine list but with a bit of waving to the staff, we ordered a bottle of Alvier Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (€25), which appears on their short wine list as French, but is, in fact, Chilean.
Their early bird menu had any two/three courses at €19.95/€22.95 from the a la carte menu, with a couple of supplements applying to steaks. Starters (€5.50-€10.50) included French onion soup; the ubiquitous chicken wings; and a roast beetroot salad with whipped St Tola goat's cheese, candied walnuts and balsamic reduction. Mains (€13.50-€25.50) included slow-braised lamb shank; a burger with caramelised onion and fries; and deep-fried cod goujons.
We were very happy with our cold starters. Mine was a generous smoked salmon and crab salad with 'mango dice' and lemon oil (€10.50). Brendan too had no quibbles with his dollop of chicken-liver terrine served with toasted brioche and plum relish (€7.50).
As we awaited our main courses, we contemplated the gloomy lighting and music, which had some female droning on about blue skies and bluebirds, and was enough to put anyone to sleep.
Our mains arrived and were very disappointing. A fondant potato is a luscious, sinful thing cooked in butter, but how the chef here managed to present two of these with bone-dry charred 'skins' baffles me. The half free-range rotisserie chicken (€14.50) they accompanied was no better. I couldn't figure out either why the skin and top of my piece of hake (€16.50) was yellow, equally dry and totally tasteless. It sat on an enticing-sounding chorizo, butterbean and wilted spinach cassoulet, which just lacked flavour.
We passed on puds of chocolate brownie, cheesecake, warm apple pie, ice cream and affogato; all at €5. It took a bit more waving to break up the staff chit-chat to get the bill of €64.90, as I said, "Can we move on here please?" It may be a very different scene during the day, and it may well be a friendly neighbourhood restaurant, but they need to get the night-time thing sorted - it was all too laid back, casual and sans atmosphere on our visit.
3 The Crescent,
Tel: (01) 516-6169
Blackrock Shopping Centre, Blackrock, Co Dublin
Tel: (01) 212-2981
Delicious decor of the faux faded French chateau variety make this a cool place with good casual food. Dinner Thurs-Sat. Evening specials. All-day Sunday brunch
Crab cakes — fresh crab from Ted Brown in Dingle, guacamole, tomato salsa, dill mayonnaise, rosemary roasties, €15.95
9 The Square, Tralee, Co Kerry
Tel: (066) 718-5583
Mediterranean food served in an Italian trattoria-style atmosphere. Bag a cosy candlelit alcove and think of golden Sicilian rice balls, Moroccan chicken tagine and Killorglin Angus beef steaks
Barbary duck breast, orange brandy sauce, fresh veg, rustic potato, €21.95
@The Corner Note,
1 Coliemore Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin
Tel: (01) 202-3922
The Corner Note cafe morphs into Bait from Thursday to Saturday evenings, serving small bites, big bites, nibbles and weekly specials. Live bassoon music
Big Bites, €10-€24.90
sweet-potato fries or crusty bread, €15.90