Brave New Restaurants - 10 of the Best

It’s never easy opening a new business, and extraordinary to see them popping up bravely in a pandemic. While innovative food trucks and speciality shops and online sales have understandably been the big stories in recent months, it’s surprising (and very cheering) to see how many new restaurants have also launched in the last year despite everything - some were just open and poised for the spring business surge last year, while others actually opened between lockdowns. Here are just a few of the ones that we’ve enjoyed, sprinkled around the country - and there are many more, sometimes even a cluster. In Cork especially, there’s quite a number, including re-openings of old favourites like L’Atitude 51 (Cork city) and Arundels by the Pier (Ahakista). Keep an eye out for them and support them when you can.  

Sea Church Restaurant
Ballycotton Co Cork

Quality and vision are the hallmarks of this classy church and schoolhouse conversion on the edge of Ballycotton. It’s a labour of love by local businessman Pearse Flynn, who also owns Ballycotton Sea Adventures and CUSH, the excellent restaurant, bar and accommodation along the road (formerly Pier 26, rebranded and revamped to coincide with the opening of Sea Church in spring 2020). This unique development - an atmospheric event venue in the church, with all day dining in the adjacent restaurant plus a cool bar – has brought a new dimension to this charming fishing village and, with fish landed at the nearby harbour and fresh produce from local farms, a keen kitchen team is committed to serving up the best of East Cork. Whether for a quick bite after a walk on the famous Ballycotton cliff path or a special dinner, Sea Church is a fascinating ‘must-visit’ destination when restrictions are lifted.

Blue Seafood & Bistro
Wicklow Co Wicklow

A smart refurb of the former Lighthouse Restaurant premises on the quays in Wicklow Town makes a great setting for this first venture by talented hospitality duo Greg Murphy and Ruadhan Furlong (formerly general manager and head chef respectively at the celebrated Marlfield House in Gorey) which opened in July 2020. Promising 'the finest of fresh seafood and more besides', the pair’s experience and expertise is the USP, whether it’s in Ruadhan's appealing and precise cooking, or the friendly and professional service of Greg and his front of house team. Fresh seafood is the focus, of course (try the seafood sharing platter for two) but there’s something for everyone here, including vegetarian and vegan dishes, and a children’s menu. Happy diners, including many old Lighthouse customers, flocked in from Wicklow and beyond from day one – and the well-deserved popularity of this pleasing bistro looks set to last.

Éan Bakery, Restaurant & Wine Bar
Galway Co Galway

Little sister to Enda McEvoy and Sinead Meacle's acclaimed locavore restaurant, Loam, the opening of Éan ('bird') brought a touch of cheer to the centre of Galway in November 2020. Sharing the same building as the Druid Theatre (and with direct access to it) it's an atmospheric spot and a lovely setting for terrific baking and innovative modern food based on the same 'local and seasonal' ethos as Loam. The strong team lined up by Enda and Sinead includes Head Chef, Christine Walsh and Pastry Chef Lauren Goudeket (both formerly of Loam), whose exciting offering begins with a scrumptious breakfast, showcasing those great breads, pastries and coffee from local roasters, Calendar Coffee of Barna. At lunchtime speciality sangers and pies are the big draw but everything is very seasonal and tasty - and, like Loam, there's a hands-on ethos to the whole operation, with items like pickles, ferments and charcuterie all made in-house. While currently takeaway only, Éan will welcome diners back in as soon as it is safe to do so – and, with an outstanding drinks list as well as terrific food, it's sure to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

The Glass Curtain
Cork Co Cork

One of the most interesting recent arrivals in Cork city, The Glass Curtain hit the ground running when it opened just weeks before the first lockdown. It’s in the old Thompsons Bakery building on MacCurtain Street (fast becoming Cork’s buzziest food street) and the evocative name recalls a 1960s nickname for the much-loved bakery, inspired by a glazed modern frontage installed in that era. While not large, it packs a punch with its industrial chic - high ceilings with ducting, open kitchen, well-designed lighting, evocative photography of employees at work in the old bakery - and the bar features an imaginative drinks list including delicious locally-focused cocktails. Seasonal local produce 'cooked with love and a little fire' is the promise, and it’s one that owner-chef Brian Murray and his team have no trouble delivering on. Their unusual snacks and big flavoured small plates encourage sociability and sharing - and, while that isn’t possible at the moment, the 'Glass Curtain at Home' range has proved a runaway success.

The Pier House Restaurant
Howth Co Dublin

A new venture for Simon O'Connell, of the deservedly popular O'Connells pub at the head of Howth's East Pier (formerly The Pier House), this classy little restaurant and wine bar opened quietly in a vacant spot on the West Pier between lockdowns in mid-2020 and, despite the inauspicious start, has all the ingredients for lasting success. “Contemporary dining with fresh local seafood” is the promise and it is delivered with style and warmth in this atmospheric and pleasingly-lit place - which, like its sister venue, features intriguing artwork and photographs of local interest (allow plenty of time to enjoy the corridor collection when going to the loo). Seafood, both classic and modern, is the star of course, but balanced by seriously tasty vegetarian and meat dishes (notably excellent steaks). Lovely service adds to the feel-good factor at The Pier House - and there will be keen competition for tables outside on the harbour come the summer.

Poacher Restaurant
Ballina Co Mayo

An appealing restaurant in a pair of rooms above Heffernans Fine Foods on Ballina’s Market Square, Poacher was opened in 2020 by a talented young couple, Yvonne Kathrein and Daniel Mayr. They have a following in the region from their time at The Waterfront in Ennsicrone and several other well known kitchens – and, although the new kids on the block, their background shows in the polished experience on offer here and there’s a settled feel both in the décor and the competence and flair displayed in the menus (including a vegetarian/vegan menu). Originally from Austria, Yvonne Kathrein has a real passion for seafood, artisan foods and local suppliers which is reflected in her dishes. Fine dining without the fuss – and at very reasonable prices – is the aim here and it is achieved seamlessly thanks to the talent in the kitchen and excellent service front of house, where Daniel is warm, welcoming, enthusiastic and knowledgeable on both food and wine.

Street By Sunil
Dublin 14

This third enterprise by ever-innovative chef Sunil Ghai and his wife and business partner Leena mines authentic regional Indian flavours even further than at their famed Pickle Restaurant (Dublin) and their takeaway and speciality store Tiffin (Greystones, Co Wicklow), offering an extensive deep-dive into the kind of northern Indian home-cooked and street food he grew up with as well as those from the far-flung Indian homes of their talented team of chefs. Expect some signature dishes from Pickle and Tiffin, such as fish curry with pickled lemon and a luxurious black dahl alongside regional curries and biryani and lots of street-style treats from kebabs to chaat to Calcutta rolls. For now it is takeaway only (collection and local delivery) plus an exciting food store selling excellent pantry items and snacks (think freshly ground spices, an electric mango chutney and irresistible masala-spiced cashews zinging with dried mango and mint), but once restrictions allow, expect those dozen in-house seats to be in hot demand.

The Beach House
Tramore Co Waterford

A new venture for Tramore native Peter Hogan and his wife Jumoke Akintola Hogan, this is the glamorous younger sister of Fish Shop, their much-loved little gourmet fish and chipper in Dublin's Stoneybatter. Despite having to close temporarily only a week after opening in spring 2020, Beach House was keenly anticipated in Tramore and it was an instant hit, with many fans making a point of getting to enjoy the new experience as soon as possible. As well as a first floor dining room, the Hogans offer an informal Cellar & Garden experience, serving boards - salumi and/or cheese, hot plates from the kitchen - and carefully selected wines and cocktails. With outdoor seating (and the pleasing sight of the raised beds that will supply a fair amount of kitchen produce this summer) this is a safe and relaxing late week option when permitted. Meanwhile, delicious 'Beach House At Home' ready meals and accompaniments are available for Click and Collect.

Dede At The Customs House
Baltimore Co Cork

Baltimore may have lost a little gem in 2019 with the closure of the much-feted fine dining destination, Mews - but the decision of its gifted Turkish chef, Ahmet Dede, to stay on and re-open another legendary dining spot, The Customs House, just up the road, has been compensation a-plenty. In partnership with Customs House owner, Maria Archer, Dede at The Customs House has proved an inspired combination of casual deli fare (freshly baked sourdough baguettes, salads, dips and rotisserie chickens to go), informal outdoor meals (cooked over a charcoal barbecue in the back garden and served with modern mezze) and, at weekends, a taste of the exquisite fine dining that earned Dede such a well-deserved reputation at Mews. Not surprisingly perhaps, it simply flew all last summer - and the plan is to re-open for St Patrick’s weekend, if at all possible.

Coolanowle Foodhall, Café & Bistro
Carlow Co Carlow

A new venture (and a huge commitment) for Jimmy and Bernadine Mulhall of the lovely Coolanowle Country House and organic farm at Ballickmoyler, who restored a 3-storey 18th century house in the centre of Carlow Town to create this impressive organic butchers, deli, café and bistro - the butchery specialises in the superb organic meats from their own farm, and they also retail other equally carefully sourced products. Thanks to their reputation in the area and the weekly markets they attend (Dublin, Kilkenny), they had a loyal following from the get-go, When the pandemic hit, the ground floor café was getting established as a popular meeting place for shoppers to enjoy a wholesome organic snack or light daytime meal, and bistro dining was just about to get going upstairs. The butchery has remained open throughout, however, and it will be a good day for Carlow when they can finally get the café and bistro going properly. This wonderful business is a great asset to Carlow town centre - and will be even more so when business returns to normal. Definitely one for the little black book.


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