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Come dine with me

Restaurateur Ann Marie Nohl popped up a couple of times on TV3's Dublin Housewives. Yet you probably didn't recognise the petite blonde who has been feeding discerning Dubliners for more than 20 years.

Her success story includes Barrel's steak and wine bar in Dun Laoghaire and The Gables in Foxrock.

"My best friend is Gerald Kean, and Lisa and the girls from the show came into La Rouge for something to eat while filming the series," says Ann Marie of celebrity lawyer Gerald and his fiancée Lisa Murphy.

La Rouge Grill is newly opened in Cabinteely and with its glistening chandeliers, red velvet seating, gilded mirrors, and sultry black walls, it's easy to see why the girls would want to drop in for a glass of wine and a gossip at the Parisian cafe-style restaurant.

"I love having the girls in and we'd a lovely time, but it was Gerald who persuaded me it was a good idea to allow the cameras in," says Ann Marie.


The 'housewives' were also filmed in her other eaterie, the ever-popular Expresso Bar Cafe on St Mary's Road in Ballsbridge, which is a regular haunt for the area's wealthy denizens and music mogul Louis Walsh.

So how has the recession affected trade. "I've lost 20pc of my business in Expresso because of the downturn and developers leaving the country, and all the solicitors who were involved in the property business," Ann Marie explains. La Rouge Grill is her 17th restaurant in a career which has spanned over 30 years.

"I married at 19 and opened my first restaurant at 20 after a trip abroad and wanting to bring home some of the food ideas I saw," she says.

"I got the chairs for the first Barrel's from a junk shop. Everything was done on a budget and with passion and hard work," says Ann Marie, who lives in Cabinteely.

She opened the first Barrel's restaurant with her ex-husband Peter Stokes, who now owns Castle Durrow in Co Laois.

Barrel's quickly became a successful restaurant brand and at one point Ann Marie was overseeing eight of them. She was also behind the Coopers chain of five restaurants and La Finezza restaurant in Donnybrook.

Chances are you've celebrated a significant life event in the past quarter of a century in a restaurant created by Ann Marie.

She didn't lose out in the property crash. "I stick to doing what I do best and put my energy into the restaurant business," she says.

The question, though, is whether she is taking the risk of a lifetime by opening La Rouge Grill on the Old Bray Road in such tough times?

"It's a good time to open a restaurant for a few reasons. You can negotiate rents and leases. At other times you find yourself paying more. You can also negotiate wages. Suppliers are also more flexible. I only get the best produce and from local suppliers."

La Rouge offers contemporary classic French cuisine, with an appealing three-course Early Bird for just over ¤25 which includes calamari, lamb kidneys and duck leg.

Ann Marie is a mum of three -- Simon (31) owns McEvoys steak and wine bar in Abbeyleix, David (30) is a cameraman and videotographer and Sarah (23) is in management.

She cringes when asked about her personal life, but concedes she did date In Treatment star Gabriel Byrne 'quietly' and for a while.

In recent times, she dated businessman Patrick McGuckian and says she is currently single and spends most of her weekends with friends in London. "London is very vibrant and there's a wider variety of places when you go out."


Originally from Killiney, Ann Marie is a soul of discretion, and gives away no goss on her well-heeled diners, who across 30 years of her running restaurants would have undoubtedly had some juicy nights in her popular bistros and wine bars.

"Listen, if I were ever to tell a thing, do you think anyone would come back?" she laughs.

You never know who'll you bump into in La Rouge, however, even the glamorous cast of Dublin Housewives.