Perfect mix of fresh air and fine food

Dining al fresco is a rare treat in this country, so when it’s warm we all want to eat outdoors

Dining al fresco is a rare treat in this country, so when it's warm we all want to eat outdoors. Here are just a handful of
places that offer great seats when the sun shines, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE to feel sorry for the Irish restaurateur. Their counterparts in the south of France or California can serve ordinary fare under a warm open sky and it becomes something so much more enjoyable.

Everything tastes better in the fresh air, yet tables outside can be as rare as the weather needed to enjoy them. A great view is a bonus and both combined in one is a rare treat. No dingy yards with heat lamps and fake bay trees. Give me an ocean view or a proper city footpath or gardens where the food comes with a soundtrack of swallows’ shrieks.



Last year a long trek to west Cork was broken at the Innishannon Hotel, just over 14km west of Cork city. We stretched our stiff limbs and smiled at the view of the rain-fat Bandon river at the bottom of an old-fashioned garden. The grass was mossy and lush and dotted with heavy cast-iron, white-painted furniture.

One small boy being ushered ahead of us asked, “Is this our holiday home mummy?”

It wasn’t a holiday home, but it was a much-needed break from the road with a simple bar menu of good staples, such as soup, chowder, chips and salads, eaten on seats outside the restaurant overlooking the garden full of children released from their safety seats.

Innishannon Hotel, Innishannon, Co Cork, 021-4775121,


Dublin has plenty of great restaurants but very few have tables outside, beyond a couple of smokers’ benches. Chez Max turns the nook outside the wall of Dublin Castle on Palace Street into a pocket of backstreet Paris. Breakfast on pain au chocolat (€1.80) and a range of coffees or sit outside on a balmy summer’s evening with a bowl of French onion soup (€5.90) and the rabbit stew (€18.50).

Chez Max, 1 Palace Street, Dublin 2, 01-6337215,


When we discovered Marlay Park in Dublin’s Rathfarnham last year we wondered why we had never been before. There are acres of rolling grass, a bells-and-whistles playground and the wonderful miniature railway where small children queue up for a free ride on the beautiful steam engine stoked with a tiny coal shovel by the men from the Dublin Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. The Marlay Park Coffee Shop has tables outside and the traders from the Sunday Marlay Park Outdoor Cafe Market are planning to bring in buskers and children’s entertainers this summer.

Marlay Park Coffee Shop, Marlay Park Courtyard, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16, 01-4933116


The formal elegance of Powerscourt Gardens is the most obvious answer to the question of a cafe in a garden, but the Avoca HQ at Kilmacanogue in Co Wicklow has a more relaxed garden setting and one that you can ramble in without being charged an entrance fee.

The place may be on the side of a busy motorway and the shops are usually crammed with people and stock. But walk through to the Sugar Tree Café and the Fern House Café and they back on to a simple garden with loads of tables outside, mature trees and some gentle grassy slopes. The food is reliably good and the Rice Krispie chocolate rectangles are big enough to share.

Fern House Café, Avoca, Kilmacanogue, Co Wicklow, 01-2746990,


Some of the best outdoor spots are seasonal, opening just for the summer months. Ballyvaughan Tea and Garden Rooms in the Burren in Co Clare has tables in its lovely garden and plenty of room in the conservatory if a squall blows in.

The stone coast security officer’s cottage opened as a tea room in 1981 and the owner Katherine O’Donoghue has now passed the rolling pin to her daughter Jane, and her partner Alan Clarke. The new proprietress worked in restaurant management in the Mount Juliet and Four Seasons hotels before coming back to Ballyvaughan.

Tea-room staples include home-made cookies for €1.50 or scones for €2. They also do a range of hot food, serving until about 5pm. Ballyvaughan Tea and Garden Rooms, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, 065-7077157, Open April to October


Another summer-season venue is the Garden Café at Brigit’s Garden in Co Galway. A vegetarian and slow-food cafe, it is set in beautiful 11-acre gardens and woodland with a live willow play area and an enormous calendar sundial.

Soups and salads using ingredients from the garden along with home-baked breads are served on a patio overlooking the gardens. Last week’s menu included a golden vegetable and herb soup with home-made brown bread for €4.50, a potato, green bean and walnut salad with lemon dressing for €6.45, and carrot cake with cream for €4.25.

Brigit’s Garden, Roscahill, Co Galway 091-550905, Open May to September


On warm evenings they open up the sliding doors at the Dolphin Beach House on the Sky Road, Clifden, Co Galway and shift tables outside to the patio. The dining room has a gorgeous ocean view out to the islands beyond and the guesthouse is set in a 14-acre wilderness around it.

Run by Clodagh and Fearghus Foyle, who took over from their parents, they give the first seats in the dining room to residents and if there are any spare seats non-residents can dine. Vegetables are grown on the family land and meat and fish come from local providers, including fish suppliers in Clifden. Dinner is €38 a head.

Dolphin Beach House, Lower Sky Road, Clifden, Co Galway, 095-21204,


The Mullicháin Café in St Mullins village in Carlow is in a restored 18th-century canal storehouse and sits 10 yards from the river Barrow.

Now in its third season, there are 14 tables outside where you can eat beside the river, either at the six cafe tables or at the recently installed picnic tables on the riverbank.

The two-storey cafe has plenty of room if it gets nippy or wet, owner Martin O’Brien says. “When it’s sunny everyone wants to sit outside.” They get plenty of canoeists stopping for sustenance – the last stop was New Ross, 18km back. They also have reasonably priced cottages to rent.

The Old Grain Store, St Mullins, Co Carlow, 051-424440,