Fair play, good on ya!

It goes without saying that, in the present climate, small business owners in Ireland deserve a standing ovation. It also follows, then, that people opening new businesses must either be bonkers or really passionate. Or both. 🙂


I’ve lost count of how many shops and restaurants in town have closed since Christmas. It doesn’t seem to hit one particular kind of institution, but is a disease that has finished candy shops, butchers, restaurants, dress shops (like my favourite, Rouge Boutique :(), shoe stores, and even pound shops! For me, still a recent transplant, it’s been a little heartbreaking to see doors closing all over the place. I can’t imagine how it feels to the owners themselves, after all the time, money, and heart they’ve invested.

On a slightly separate note, it’s frustrating, as a consumer, to know where to eat, shop, etc. when your favourite places have gone under. When you’re on limited means, as we are, going out for a meal is a special treat, and we’ve been burned a few times this year going to cafes that presented us really low quality fare. That’s why I want to mention three really stellar Drogheda restaurants that have opened in the last 12 months or so – I have such respect for the chutzpah of their owners in their uphill battle to start something new when even the old can’t cut it. And I really really want these places to succeed.

Wm Cairnes & Son Gastropub, Tower Winebar & Grill, and Relish Cafe.

1. Wm Cairnes & Son Gastropub, Scotch Hall
Cairnes was such a lovely surprise  when we discovered it.  We’ve come to expect little from such restaurants, and the location (wedged in the corner of Scotch Hall and the D Hotel) is one we forget about, but I’m going to work harder to keep this place at the forefront of my memory next time we are going out!  The atmosphere is rustic and modern with a decidedly American feel – exposed stone walls, high ceilings, reclaimed wooden tables.  Kids are welcome, even for dinner – such a plus for us, now a family of four! – and they have board games and such to occupy you while you wait.

Cairnes (photo from tripadvisor)

Cairnes main dining room (photo courtesy of tripadvisor)

We’ve been for lunch and dinner, and I have to say, it just gets better and better.   Last time I was there, I had a crab and prawn pasta dish and it was gorgeous, with loads of fresh crab claws and good-sized prawns mixed through a creamy (but not too heavy) sauce.  Frank’s fish & chips and my mom’s Irish stew looked pretty tasty, too.  Our desserts were to die for, and looked so chic on the plates as well.

One of the best things about Cairnes, though, is their beer selection.  We were delighted to see a large variety of Irish microbrews on the menu, including a tasting paddle of 3 for a fiver.  On weekends, the bar is hopping with live music and local bands.

Overall, Cairnes is a great mix of Ireland’s best produce and brews along with modern influences from outside.

2. Tower Winebar & Grill, Millmount
Located in the most prominent point in town, the Tower seduces with its spectacular views and historic charm.  Up next to the round Millmount Tower and Museum, this restaurant has gone through many owners over the years but has been empty as long as I’ve lived here.  It took our friends from the Salthouse, Justin and Signe, plus some other experienced partners, to see the potential in this neglected site and throw in everything they had to get it running again.  There have been some bumps along the way – two burglaries, for one thing! – but it’s been so worth it.  The Tower is stunning.

Interior of Tower Winebar & Grill

Interior of Tower Winebar & Grill

Upstairs is a beautiful semi-formal dining room that’s been updated tastefully and stylishly while keeping many historic features prominent.  When we went for Valentine’s Day, they even had the fire lit, which I loved!  Panoramic views of the town and the Boyne Valley are the stars of the show, at least until your food comes.

Downstairs is a more relaxed wine bar atmosphere, but you can order whatever you like down there, too – there’s even a magnificent playroom for kids, complete with a mini kitchen, train set, colouring books, and a bathroom/changing room adjacent.  When Evey turned 3 in mid-December, we took her and a few little friends to this downstairs part of the Tower and were really well looked after and had a great time.

Birthday Lunch

Birthday lunch downstairs in the Tower

When it comes to dinner, the food and wine are superb and come reasonably priced.  Frank and I shared a delicious seafood starter, then I had duck breast accompanied with fondant potato, carrot and orange purée, Savoy cabbage and Grand Mariner jus and a glass of red wine, which was fab.  Real MasterChef stuff! Frank had steak and chips, which was well-cooked and tasty.  Again, our desserts were heavenly and we left feeling just the right amount of full – better to have really excellent food in reasonable portions than OK food in mass servings.

I can highly recommend Tower Winebar & Grill for any occasion and I’m looking forward to my next trip up the hill as well.

3. Relish Cafe at the Highlanes Gallery
When Anderson’s, the former cafe at the Highlanes Gallery (and the Craft Mark store adjacent, which really bummed me out) closed last year, I had no idea something so nice would come along to fill the space.  Relish is probably my favourite place in  town to go for coffee and cake, though they do so much more!  This is a lovely, bright spot and the staff are very friendly and prompt.

The menu is extensive and chock full of local and mostly Irish ingredients.  I’ve had sandwiches and wraps here many times and I love how the fillings are all fresh, right down to the carved meats.  But the real delights at Relish come from the bakery!!! Their Lemon Drizzle Cake is out of this world and their scones are huge, moist confections served with real jam.  Served with a cup of coffee or one of their Solaris teas (another favourite supplier of mine), a Relish cake mid-morning or late afternoon is always a special event.

Relish's tempting coffees (photo courtesy of tripadvisor)

Relish’s tempting coffees (photo courtesy of tripadvisor)

Like the Tower, Relish has a little play area for kids near the back, which makes it Evelyn’s favourite place to go with Mommy!  There is also a nice selection of foodie gifts displayed near the deli counter.  It’s details like these, in addition to the yummy fare, that have made Relish really stand out to me.

I hope, readers, if you’re planning a trip to Drogheda this summer or any time, you will pop in to one of these very worthwhile eateries and give them your business.  And if you’re from the town and haven’t tried the new offerings here, please do so!  It’s so wonderful to see new businesses and especially ones that are doing us proud, so please support all of the above!

To each of you – Cairnes, Tower, and Relish, I’d like to send my best wishes, say “Fair play!” and “Good on ya!” but most of all, “See you soon!” 🙂


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