For a very special evening meal, I would wholeheartedly recommend the Restaurant na Mara in Dun Laoghaire. It's easy to find since it is situated in the original section of Dun Laoghaire's DART station. We had the set menu which included a starter (I recommend the duck confit if it's on), main course (corn-fed chicken was melt-in-the-mouth) and dessert (best raspberry coulis I've had in a long time) with tea, coffee and petit fours. The service was truly excellent and the atmosphere is classy. I'd recommend neat dress so avoid your trainers and tracksuit (although they don't insist on ties, etc. Reservation is recommended especially at weekends on 280 6767. Another worthwhile trip southbound by DART is to Blackrock's Roccia Nera. It is a medium-priced Italian with good pasta and atmosphere. You should book (288 3347) on Friday or Saturday evening. UPDATE December 2003: The Roccia has become more expensive - expect to pay 13-15 Euro for a main course. Having said that, the food is still very good and I recommend the Tortellini. Peter.
The vast majority of cafes and restaurants do not include a service charge with the bill. Ireland does not have a sales tax either, so tipping is left to the discretion of the customer. Common practice is to leave about 10% of the bill as a tip; however Irish people tend to be generous tippers and will sometimes leave 15-20%.
Milltown: I heartily recommend the Dropping Well in Milltown, Dublin 14, for a good lunch or evening meal. Easily accessible by the Luas tram Green line, it offers a beautiful location with views of the River Dodder, and very good food, drink and service. Prices are a little above average for pub food in south Dublin, but I always feel the quality is worth it. Last time I visited, I had the Lamb's liver with cauliflower, carrots and potatoes for €11.00. The liver was extremely tender and the vegtables delicate and nourishing. My companion had the Supreme chicken (€12.50) with the same trimmings. A 7-Up soft drink was €2.60 and coffees were €2.40. We managed to nab a table overlooking the river and it happened to be a beautiful sunny afternoon!
If arriving by Luas from the city centre alight at Milltown stop. Cross the tracks and continue along the parallel road in the same direction as the tram. At the bottom of the short hill (Richmond Avenue) is a 'T' junction - turn right and you will shortly see the Dropping Well at the traffic lights - about a five-minute walk at most. After your meal, there are some fine walks along the River Dodder - in fact it is possible to walk several kilometres along this wonderful linear park.
Malahide: It's well worth the short trip to Malahide by DART to eat there. You'll find a good range of places ranging from Hotel to cafe, bistro, Chinese, Thai and Italian. I would recommend Mario's Pizzeria for all-round value, great service and excellent pizzas. None of your agricultural 2 inch thick base but a wafer-thin, melt-in-the-mouth base. Our starters (garlic bread + cheese, garlic mushrooms shared between 4), main course (2 x 9" and 2 x 12" pizza) and half-carafe of house wine and 2 beers cost 63 Euro between 4 persons. Don't mind the plastic tablecloth, you can see them cooking and the place is immaculate. The owner will typically chat to all in that friendly Italian manner. After your meal there are various walks along the sea estuary before getting the train back to Dublin.
Enniskerry: The 'Garden of Ireland', Co. Wicklow, is right on your doorstep and one of the nearest villages is Enniskerry. It's well worth the bus ride just to visit Poppies, a lovely cafe right in the village. They do excellent Quiche, baked potatoes and service is really efficient and friendly. They don't open evenings but are also open on Saturdays to my knowledge. Walk off your lunch with a brisk pace up the 20% hill to Powerscourt house and golf club (the waterfall at Powerscourt is actually 3-4 miles from the house).
Celbridge: Having had several excellent meals just over the Dublin border in Co. Kildare, I would warmly recommend the Irish-Italian Michelangelos, on Celbridge's main street. It is a family-run business by the charming David and they do a very good Sunday lunch three-course deal for a reasonable €24.99 per person. Celbridge has regular bus services, is near the N4, and there is a shuttle bus service from Hazelhatch rail station (although not on Sundays, I think).
DID YOU KNOW?
Ireland has had a no smoking policy for many years. All public buildings and buses are completely no smoking. Trains have a small percentage of smoking carriages - restaurants are legally obliged to provide at least 25% non-smoking seating.
One of my greatest treats as a young lad was to be taken to Bewleys in Grafton Street and drink a big glass of Jersey milk. It come from their own Jersey herd in south Dublin; an area now zoned as green belt. I'm told you can still get this milk in Bewleys - an even bigger treat nowadays since standard milk is homogenized with no more creamy tops.
I miss many things living away from Ireland - my cycling pals, craic, Irish produce including bacon and rashers, sausages, pudding and milk, all of which are difficult to buy abroad. However, one item which always finds its way into the luggage is a box of Tayto crisps (chips). These are delicious and unique to Ireland, I believe, since their magic blend of potatoes, flavours (natural) and cooking have endeared them to generations of Irish people. Regretfully, you can't yet order them online but you can send some an e-card if you really want to tempt them.