Relax, bring the family and eat well

Restaurants that welcome children, without dumbing down the food, are rare but Moloughney's gets it just right

Restaurants that welcome children, without dumbing down the food, are rare but Moloughney's gets it just right

THE WORDS "family restaurant" make my appetite shrivel. I've eaten out with our children since they were tiny. But too often you can't bring the pack to the places you love because they're too small, filled with hazards and diners who really don't want the hell that is other people's children with their Sunday lunch.

It's a deftly done thing, making a restaurant family-friendly without turning it into a place that repels adults. The compromise is eating food you would rather not as the easier alternative to sitting on the edge of your seat like a stressed-out sergeant major braced to let a roar at someone about to spill, spit or smash something.

On a cold rainy Sunday I'm home alone with stir crazy boys, so I send out the bat signal to another Temporarily-Single Mother (TSM). On a better day we would have walked by the sea at Clontarf before heading for an early afternoon sitting at Moloughney's (pronounced M'Lockney's) on Vernon Avenue. As it is the run from the car to the restaurant is windblown enough.

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I like this place as soon as we walk through the doors. The Victorian building has been sandblasted inside and out to expose biscuity red bricks. "Why is there an outside wall here?" my middle guy asks as we head upstairs. They've added a slightly odd New Orleans-style veranda to the top floor, presumably to make the most of the sea on a better day. When we arrive a couple is being turned away from the busy room downstairs. The man spots someone leaving and they pounce like it's the last lifeboat. I'm glad we booked.

We settle ourselves at a large brown table by the window with mismatched, comfortable chairs. There's a beautiful pearly-grey sea light coming into the warmth of this place. A high chair comes but sits empty as the youngest makes himself comfortable on a chair and starts banging cutlery. My godson, his older sister and their mother arrive and we settle down to read the menu.

All around us people are eating the ham hock, which seems to be a favourite. There are three €7.50 options for "juniors", a penne Bolognese, a stew and then lastly chicken goujons and chips. All the juniors at our table act like iron filings round the magnet that is the goujons (as it turns out they're not the worst of this kind of offering) but with a little persuasion two of the boys go for the pasta.

My starter of gnocchi with Boilie cheese and vegetables is fantastic, one of the best vegetarian dishes I've had recently. It's a bowl of slippery ribbons of courgette, gorgeous roasted cherry tomatoes, barely-done spinach leaves and gnocchi that are more like mini potato cakes, finished on a pan and perfect with the softly-cooked cheese. Nothing fussy or elaborate, but utterly delicious. The other TSM has the mussels. They come in a milky broth delicately flavoured with chilli and coriander and are great.

The penne turns out to be fusilli (but who's fussed?) and the Bolognese is given 100 per cent out of 100 by the godson and equally enjoyed by my eldest. He cleans his bowl and declares himself "about to fall off my chair from fullness." If the Michelin guide employed seven-year-olds, this one would be drawing a large star in his report book.

The goujons are proper chicken, breaded and fried. and they come with chips cut from potatoes with the skins still on. "Nice", the older sister pronounces with an enigmatic smile.

My fellow TSM has a second starter, a blood orange and chickpea salad, for main course and really enjoys its freshness. My lamb stew turns out to be Irish stew with the potatoes on the side, as mash. It's tasty, with the addition of celery in the broth, but not cooking the potatoes in the stew leaves it a little bit thin, without the soupiness typical of this one-pot dish. At this stage of the year, lamb is as old as it gets so this is a genuine case of hogget dressed as lamb. It's grand, but not what I'd expect from a menu description of lamb stew.

The dessert menu wins no awards for innovation but I can't imagine our table would be terribly impressed with that sort of thing. We share a brownie (charged at the children's portion size as it's the last piece), some cheesecake and an apple and berry crumble, all of which are fine.

This place opened in May 2009 when prospects for new restaurants must have looked bleak. The chef is Liam Moloughney and he and his wife Michelle have run the busy Woodstock Café in Phibsboro for years.

We don't even look at the wine list as we're both driving but a glance at the website shows a good and extensive list of options.

It has been a long, leisurely lunch with a substantial wait between courses as friendly waiters and waitresses rush around the busy floor. My youngest mutinies towards the end and starts striding to the bathrooms, jacked up on Lorina pink lemonade which is all he has chosen to imbibe. They could do with at least one more waiter up here. As we leave one waitress sinks gratefully to a chair at an empty table with a bowl of tasty-looking soup and a sigh.

More groups are arriving and at this rate there will be very little let-up between lunch and dinner. The question most family restaurants fall down on is whether you come back without kids. The answer here is definitely yes. And crowds are what happen when you open a place where you don't have to leave your appetite at the door in exchange for a few crayons and a cartoon menu.

Lunch with drinks and desserts for two adults and five children (four actually eating) comes to €92.50. Two course deal of €19.90, three courses €24.90.

9 Vernon Avenue, Clontarf, 01-8330002

Music: Some 1990s rock, generally drowned out by conversation

Facilities: Rustic and pleasant with taps oddly plumbed in reverse

Wheelchair access: Yes

Service: Friendly, but not the fastest

Food provenance: Fairly good. Llewellyn's apple juice from orchards in Lusk, Boilie and St Tola cheeses are here, salmon is hot-smoked from their own smokery

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