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Last-minute tables: Where to go for festive food when you don’t have a reservation

Whether for a meal or just a snack, check out new openings, consider casual spots with lots of space, and get your name on the list for a cancellation

If you started your Christmas catch-ups in November, congratulations. Weekend nights last month were nearly as hard to get as December bookings, but taxis were considerably easier. But what if the social secretary in your group has unofficially retired since lockdown, and you now find yourself scrambling for somewhere that doesn’t involve carrying your own tray? Or maybe it’s just a low key meet-up with a pal, a nice lunch or dinner for two.

There is hope. But you’ll need to get cracking. Manage your expectations and be flexible because there is still availability once you move away from the peak days and times. You are much more likely to get a booking towards the beginning rather than the end of the week, and if you do land a table, it is likely to be earlier in the evening. This is no bad thing. Hailing a taxi before the crowds spill out of the restaurants and pubs may be the only way you’re going to get one in the run up to Christmas.

If it’s a group, check out the restaurants that have private spaces, such as Library Street, Locks and Bresson, and restaurants that have more capacity. In Dublin, there’s plenty of buzz in Fallon & Byrne, Ely Wine Bar, The Purty Kitchen and Gaz Smith’s operations, from Big Mike’s in Blackrock to his Mount Merrion original. For an Italian vibe, there’s Rosa Madre, Amuri, Nanetti’s and Cirillo’s. All guaranteed to make the spirits bright.

In Galway, Il Vicolo Restaurant & Wine Bar with its stunning location on the river is one of the most atmospheric restaurants in the city, and there will be plenty of festive spirit in Cava, Kai and Ruíbín. In Cork, you could have yourself a merry little Christmas in one of the city’s many wine bars, from L’Atitude 51 to MacCurtain Wine Cellar, or head to Goldie or Elbow Lane for some great food and local craft beer. In Belfast, the recently opened Waterman restaurant is the place to be, and Deanes at Queens is always a good bet.


Consider some of the more casual places. You’ll get a set menu with 11 dishes for €29 at the Lucky Tortoise in Temple Bar (you can read our review here). Soup 2 has a €30 set menu for groups of eight or more, and the cafe and HiFi lounge at Hen’s Teeth has a cool line-up that includes dinner, dancing and all round festive fun. Big Fan Bao and Hang Dai have a permanent party vibe.

If you have difficulty landing a table for a large number, could I suggest a two tier strategy? Plan to go to a walk-in venue, getting there good and early so you bag a table, but do a bit of back channelling beforehand. If you’d dearly love a top end place, get in touch with those restaurants earlier in the week, you never know your luck.

Big name restaurants are booked months in advance, and that means there will always be some cancellations closer to the date. In restaurants such as Chapter One, there is always a waiting list, but that waiting list will also be months old. Chances are, the people on the waiting list (organised people), will have something else booked, so you may find yourself landing a very covetable last minute booking. Do check out Instagram where many restaurants announce tables that have become unexpectedly available due to late cancellations; and it is also well worth following @lastminutetabledublin where food writer Katia Valadeau posts details of restaurants with last minute availability. You could bag somewhere lovely like Variety Jones or Clanbrassil House.

The two large tables in CN Duck in Ranelagh would be quite the thing for a big group (you can read our review here). The food here is made for sharing – the Hong Kong duck is spectacular, but there are also some good vegetarian options – and it has the added advantage of having a BYOB option. Korean Table has lovely tables for six, and like CN Duck, bookings are by email, so there may be some availability. Also worth checking is Hakkahan in Stoneybatter.

In Dublin, restaurants that cater for walk-ins include The Seafood Café, Loose Canon, Chimac, Pi, Masa, Nomo Ramen, Coke Lane Pizza at Lucky’s and The Circular, Aobaba, Kimchi Hophouse, Lee’s Charming Noodles and Happy Endings. Food yards are well worth considering, although many of them will be weather dependent. Catch Chestnut Market before it closes; there’s a Berlin vibe with a firepit, music, great food stalls and BYOB. In Cork, the Marina Market is a spectacular place to go with a group where you can set yourself up at one of the large tables with 35-plus food stalls to choose from.

If it’s just two of you, Fish Shop in Stoneybatter is a good option. It’s counter seating, so doesn’t suit a big group. It had originally been walk-ins only, but reservations are now possible. The same goes for Frank’s on Camden Street Lower, where seating is at a large communal table and they serve a five-dish set menu for €40 per person (you can read our review here). Reservations can be made using the Tok booking system, and €10 deposit will secure your booking. For three or more guests, email the restaurant. Paradiso in Cork is worth checking for availability, as they don’t take large groups.

Do make enquiries at newer restaurants that may still be a little off the radar. In Dublin there’s a tasting menu at D’Olier Street, the new fine dining restaurant from the people behind Mr Fox. At Hyde there’s a sizeable restaurant and floors of bars to explore (you can read our review here). Laurel restaurant, over Kelly & Coopers pub in Blackrock, headed up by chef patron Alan O’Reilly, has a menu of well-priced bistro classics. Troy Maguire (of L’Gueuleton and Locks fame), has taken over as executive chef in O’Neill’s in Pearse Street, serving chowder, Irish stew and fish ‘n’ chips, with the added benefit of a trad session every Saturday at 9pm. The guys behind Bonobo are bringing the same vibe to Kodiak in Rathmines, serving up great pizza, craft beer and cool cocktails.

Outside Dublin, Sinéad Moclair has opened Nóinín in Kilkenny with a short but beautiful menu. Barnacles Bar & Kitchen is a new gastropub in Salthill, Co Galway from the people behind Linnane’s Lobster Bar, so there’s plenty of fish but also a Sunday roast. In Dunboyne, Co Meath, Slevin’s is under new management offering a €40 three-course set menu.

Don’t forget to consider lunch as an option. One of the best choices at the moment is Note, where you can get two courses for €28, and three for €35. Piglet Wine Bar is open seven days a week so is always worth checking, and for something special, Woodruff has been open for Sunday lunch for the month of December (you can read our review here).