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Dublin's brilliant restaurant scene!

Dine Online takes a trip to the Capital of the Emerald Isle and finds a wealth of choice for the serious diner

Recent years have seen the Irish economy expand more rapidly than those of its European Union partners. There is a bright air of confidence abroad that is quite palpable. Restaurants seem to be a pretty good barometer of how good a place and its people feel about life. Eight years ago, when I was last in Dublin, I was fascinated by its bars, its theatre and above all its people, but with very few exceptions it was a bit of a culinary desert. Nowadays I'd need about a month to do justice to the rich variety of restaurants that have sprung up. But it would be grossly unfair to the rest of the country not to point out that this vibrant culture of eating out is by no means a wholly metropolitan phenomenon. There are many wonderful hotels and restaurants out in the country, with Kinsale in County Cork leading the pack, particulary when it comes to seafood. But a review of the epicurean possibilities outside Dublin will have to wait a little longer.

Not all Dublin's eating establishments are Johnnies come lately, however. The Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, illustrated above, has been here for seventeen years, acting both as oyster and grain of sand. In terms of purveying a very high standard of French Haute Cuisine in a luxurious and somewhat exclusive setting, it is undoubtedly Dublin's oyster. It has also been the grain of sand that has stimulated emulators as well as detractors who've reacted against the copy book Michelin approach and who are striving to provide innovative and exciting alternatives. Meanwhile Guilbaud himself, recently removed to the stunning new Merrion Hotel (lobby pictured left) built around four of Dublin's best Georgian townhouses, has his eyes firmly fixed on that third star which could certainly be within his grasp. The Hotel has its own very pleasant restaurant, named after Lord Mornington, the first resident of 24 Merrion Street.

Candle Power

Walking round Dublin just after dark on a fine October evening, I was struck by a particular feature of nearly all the restaurants, whose decor and style in most other respects are distinctly individual. The glow of candles was everywhere: reflected in mirrors, casting pools of light on sparkling cutlery and glassware, shadows flickering and flirting, but above all painting the the faces of the diners with their soft warmth. Hang on! You'd think I'd never been in a candlelit dining room before! The truth is, I haven't - lately. I suddenly realised how used I've become to the hard edged, minimalist, spotlit interiors of London's newer restaurants, a city where candles are seen only in old fashioned Trattorie, or in Hotel Restaurants of a distintly old fashioned kind.

But retro chic is now in, so it looks as though Dublin is well in the lead. Many of her dining rooms are located in beautiful Georgian surroundings, and in some cases, the effect is a bit like a Merchant Ivory film, set in Bath. Except for the clientele, who are bright, modern, buzzy, and often rather beautiful young Dubliners.

Irish Provender

Ireland is a wonderfully unspoilt country, its fields and pastures supporting an abundance of crops and cattle, its woods and rivers providing fish and game and with miles and miles of remote coastline famous for crab, oysters and prawns. Cheesemaking is undergoing a renaissance, and specialist cheesemongers are popping up all over the place. I was lucky enough to be there virtually on day one of the new Dublin branch of a cheesemonger from Galway.

Seamus Sheridan and his brother Kevin are tremendous enthusiasts who will shave off tasting samples for you most willingly - but beware, their cheeses were so well conditioned and irresistable that I went out of the shop with a piece of just about everything I tried. There are huge rounds of a marvellous hard cheese called Gabriel, and there are lots of cheeses from unpasteurised sheep's and goat's milk. I brought home a very enjoyable crotin of goat's cheese called St Tola. Seamus also has a stall on Saturdays at Dublin's Temple Bar Food Market. The shop is called Sheridan's Cheesemongers, 11 South Ann Street, Dublin 2, only a few minutes walk from Temple Bar. Tel: (0)1 679 3143.

Short breaks in Dublin by Cityjet

I flew to Dublin from London City Airport in Docklands in one of Cityjet's short runway BAe 146 jets. It's a stubby little plane with a generous number of engines, four actually, which works out at one for every 25 passengers, very reassuring. The flight takes about an hour and you need check in only about 20 minutes before departure. The first seven or eight rows are reserved for Executive class passengers, but the seats are just the same throughout the aircraft. Apart from enjoying better wines and rather elegant canapés and smoked salmon, the main advantage is the flexibility of departure and last minute changes of schedule. Speaking of wines, we of the Executive fraternity drank some very nice white 1995 Burgundy from Jaffelin, and one of my favourite Riojas - from Martinez Bujanda - the 1994 Conde de Valdemar. Both were poured from standard 75cl bottles, a move that I am glad to see more airlines are adopting at last.

If you travel between Monday and Thursday, you can pick up a bargain return fare of Stg 68.00, which must be about the cheapest way to get to Dublin. By the way, watch out for the fact that London City Airport is not on the Docklands Light Railway. I didn't look carefully enough at the tube map in the back of my diary, so I got out at Canary Wharf where there is a shuttle bus to the airport, but I got a taxi, which took a little less than ten minutes. On the way back, the taxi fare to Waterloo was Stg 15.00, worth it at half past nine in the evening. The taxi to and from the centre of Dublin costs about IRPounds 12.00.

Cityjet Dublin tel: 01 8445566 Fax 01 8444566
London Tel:0345 445588

Reviews of Central Dublin restaurants

The picture of the table at the Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud appears by kind permission of The Food and Wine Magazine, a super new magazine for the gourmet, published in Dublin bi-monthly, price IRpounds 2.50.

If you have eaten out well in Dublin please let us have your comments:

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Views or opinions expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publishers, Clifton Media Associates. While every care is taken in compiling this publication, the publishers cannot assume responsibility for any effects arising therefrom.