It’s fair to say that no one comes to Dublin just for the cuisine, but the last twenty years has seen a remarkable growth in the variety of places to eat, from Lebanese to Nepalese. The consequent rise in both standards and expectations looks set to continue – especially in the area of modern Irish cooking – though prices can be off-putting. Many restaurants, however, offer lunchtime or early-bird (typically before 7pm) set menus of two or three courses, sometimes for as little as half the cost of their regular evening fare. Some cafés and restaurants, catering to a crowd who have spent their money carousing late into the previous night, also provide good-value weekend brunch. In addition, plenty of pubs dish up decent, reasonably priced, hearty food, with more ambitious menus available at gastropubs like The Exchequer and The Odeon.
Dublin has long had a thriving café scene, strongly supported by the widespread temperance movement and the churches. Nowadays you’re almost as likely to find baklava as traditional brack, accompanied by a speciality tea or a frothy cappuccino. For a splurge with a difference, “Art Tea” at the Merrion Hotel is a lot of fun: delicious afternoon tea in the drawing rooms, with cakes that creatively reflect the surrounding paintings from the hotel’s excellent collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century, mostly Irish, art (€36, including the catalogue of the collection).
The majority of Dublin’s restaurants are on the south side of the river in the city centre, with a tight concentration in Temple Bar. It’s generally worth booking ahead if you can, especially in the evenings.