Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Greystones - A new town

TEN YEARS AGO ago, Greystones was a very pleasant but slightly sleepy town, still far removed from the bustle of Dublin. Times have certainly changed. There is still a very attractive village atmosphere, but the population of greater Greystones has soared, with several large developments on the outskirts, and the arrival of the Dart. Not everyone is pleased with all the changes, but on the food front, few can complain.

A decade ago, options to eat out in Greystones were fairly limited. There were a couple of decent Italian trattorias, Bistro Vino by the station, or Cooper’s down by the harbour. The greatest treat was a visit to The Hungry Monk , a legendary establishment that still thrives. Last week, I counted no less than 20 businesses all serving food of some sort, all on Church Road, the main street, or a very short walk away from it. Eating at home has got a lot better too, with a clutch of fine-food shops to please the most fastidious of foodies.

Every restaurant seems to have its fans. Bistro Vino has been in operation for many years, serving wholesome Italian classics, but things have taken a change for the better under new ownership. Regulars (and there are many) swear that it offers the best value in town. Serving a range of pasta, pizza and a few more adventurous dishes, it is very popular for families out on the town.

Across the road is The Burnaby , a pub that is a regular lunchtime haunt for people working locally. The interior has been very sensitively restored and modernised and in many ways shows the way forward for that great institution that is the Irish pub. The cooking here has taken a jump forward recently; Aran’s seafood chowder is a meal in itself, and a delicious pie and a pint is a great way to start the weekend.

Bochelli has its fans too – it’s a classic Italian red-sauce joint with genuine attentive Italian service in a very lively atmosphere. The Royal Park , a traditional Chinese restaurant, may not stray too far from the usual formula, but the service is excellent and the food is reasonably priced.

Other favourites include Scent (mixed Asian) and Backstage @ Bels , with its theatrical theme. Food here is locally sourced where possible, and modern Irish in style. Also popular with Italian foodies is Diva , down by the harbour.

A little further up Church Road, the cooking gets more ambitious. The Three Qs , run by the three Quinn brothers (Paul, Colin and Brian), offers an excellent mix of modern and international cuisine in a pleasantly laid-back atmosphere. There is a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the menu, with falafel and Moroccan fish, but the dhal soup is a must-try too. The Irish side of the menu includes plenty of pork, game and fish (be sure to try the game pie). If the menu sounds overly complicated, fear not. It works perfectly, with real inventiveness and style. Three Qs also opens for breakfast and light lunches too; home-made baked beans with mature cheese on toast will banish any lingering winter blues.

Across the road you will find both The Hungry Monk, and Chakra (see panel, overleaf).

Coffee shops abound, and all seem to be buzzing, despite the recession. Summerville (formerly Poppies) is a favourite among walkers after a climb over Bray Head. During the week it seems to be full of mothers meeting for coffee after the school run. Another long-term tenant is Homan’s , down by the station, which makes a real effort to offer a decent cuppa and something to nibble alongside it. Scone afficionados tell me they make the real deal here.

Farther up the street, The Happy Pear and Caviston’s both do a very brisk lunchtime trade. Next door to The Happy Pear, A Caviston (the A is for Amy), a recent arrival, does a great lunch, featuring, not surprisingly, plenty of fishy salads. An off-shoot of the famous Glasthule shop, A Caviston offers an excellent selection of fish, cheese and other goodies, as well as having a cafe. The quality of cold meats, cheese and other deli foods has added an extra dimension to shopping in Greystones. Competition on the fish front is provided by Moran’s , which also supplies many of the local restaurants.

One thing missing from the food scene in recent years has been a decent butcher’s shop. Most proper foodies head up to Delgany, home to Farrelly’s , a traditional butchers that slaughters its own beef and lamb. Regulars here are treated to a stream of happy banter while waiting for their massive organic T-bone steaks. In recent months, however, there is competition from The Steak Shop , which opened just off the main street in Greystones, selling that rarity: properly hung beef and lamb.

There is more choice for the take-home brigade with the recent arrival of several upmarket shops. In addition to Supervalu, Tesco and Lidl (not to mention Superquinn just down the road in Charlesland), shoppers can now choose between Butler’s Pantry on Church Road, and a large new Donnybrook Fair , complete with on-site wok cookery, high-quality take-home foods (try the meatballs) and an excellent wine shop. This in turn provides competition for the Wicklow Arms in Delgany, with its well-selected range of wines and beers, and O’Briens on Church Road.

The population of Greystones must be among the healthiest in Ireland. In addition to The Happy Pear, there is Nature’s Gold health-food shop where, alongside homeopathic remedies, you will find all of the foodie’s cupboard staples, from Tamari soy sauce to a range of pulses and cereals. Beside Nature’s Gold is Ireton’s , a perfect example of the traditional Irish grocer. Another healthy option is the Ecoshop , recently arrived from Glen o’ the Downs. This offers an amazing array of eco-friendly goods for home, garden and table. For the kitchen there is an interesting selection of foods, including organic meats, vegetables and cheeses.

If all this food leaves you bloated, Greystones now boasts some of the finest sporting facilities in the country. There are three golf clubs, vibrant tennis, rugby, soccer and GAA clubs and, for the more sedate, a bowling club. Then there is a new community swimming pool and sports centre, as well as a Jackie Skelly pool and gym. The Charlesland Sports and Recreation Club has an all-weather athletic track, skateboard park, baseball diamond, tennis courts and a climbing wall. Once the harbour is completed, the sailing, rowing and angling clubs will return to normal, complete with new facilities.

Overall, the food scene in Greystones has been transformed in recent years and now offers a huge range of options for eating out and at home. There is still the remnant of a farmers’ market on Saturdays (this includes a very good butcher who travels from a farm in Co Antrim). Otherwise, people seem happy to spend their money in the local shops. Every Saturday, the main street is humming with contented locals filling their bags with a range of goodies, many of which are sourced from the green hills surrounding the town.

SOME RECENT DEVELOPMENTS in the Greystones area have been controversial, of course. To the south of the town, an approximate triangle encompassing Kilcoole to the south, Greystones to the north and Delgany to the west, is rapidly being filled with housing and other developments.

Both Delgany and Charlesland have expanded greatly over the past five years. The greater Greystones area, including Delgany and Charlesland, has grown by more than 40 per cent, and now has a population of 20,000. There were plans, turned down by An Bord Pleanála, to build a massive retail complex in Charlesland.

Within the town of Greystones, the Meridian Point shopping centre has been slow to take off, but could now receive a welcome boost with the opening of a new street, Theatre Lane, which features several retail outlets and a multi-disciplinary arts venue, Greystones Theatre and Studios. It has regular concerts and a resident gospel choir.

In a move that proved very divisive, Wicklow County Council entered into a public-private partnership scheme to develop the harbour and surrounding area to the north of the town. This is currently under construction and when completed it will include more than 340 residential units, shops, a 230-berth marina, and facilities for marine activities. The scheme has been delayed, and it is currently two months behind schedule.

The main harbour is due to open in May 2010, followed later by the boardwalk, housing and retail units. In the meantime, most of the harbour area is blocked off, although it is still possible to access the cliff walk to Bray Head.

With the opening of two new schools last year (one Educate Together, one Gaelscoil), Greystones now has five primary schools (six if you include Delgany). But as anyone travelling on the lively morning Dart will confirm, there is only one secondary school. Most students travel elsewhere to further their education.

Overall, many feel that Greystones is rapidly turning into a southside Malahide; for some this is a positive development, others feel that the developments over the past decade have been sufficient. I am conscious that for many visitors to Greystones, the foodie attractions of the village will play a strictly supporting role to the main business of the day – shopping. And I don’t mean shopping for food. So, for the fashion conscious, here are the edited highlights.

Toil & Glitter on Theatre Lane specialises in Scandinavian clothes and accessories, and carries a line of cool, elegantly deconstructed designs expertly chosen by owner Jill Barrens. Right next door, Shadore boutique, formerly of Wicklow town, is presided over by the irrepressible Sharon Mother, who loves nothing more than to have her clients “come in and play” with her quirky, highly individual selection of clothes. Mrs Wilson particularly covets her Aideen Bodkin brocade coat.

JuJu , on la Touche Place, is the place to go for investment and one-off items by labels such as Schumacher, John Rocha and Eileen Shields. It also stocks a beautiful, jewel-coloured range of cashmere by Johnston’s of Scotland. Little Miracles , next door, sells an affordable and stylish range of maternity clothing. The selection of wrap dresses come highly recommended for non-pregnant women as well. Rubana on Hillside Road carries a small but carefully chosen selection of elegant designer gear.

Tuchuzy on Church Road has a great selection of clothes by labels such as In-Wear, French Connection and The Barn. Escape boutique, beside Homan’s coffee shop on Church Road, is a long-established boutique catering for all ages and shapes with a wide range of stock including Noa-Noa, Pieszak ze Zinsky and Lysgaard.

Greystones is also home to two artisan jewellers – silversmith Colleen Gallagher, who designs and creates an extensive range of sculptural pieces from her shop, KC Gallagher , on Church Road, and goldsmith and gemmologist Anne-Mette O’Connor who creates highly individual and bespoke pieces from her workshop at AMOC , also on Church Road.

Irish Times

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