Mar 21, 2014

Silk Road Exhibition – Centre For Creative Practices

When some friends asked me to join them for an exhibition launch on Wednesday night I found my knackered self, clutching a cuppa, buried in the sofa. A quick text revealed the destination to be the Centre For Creative Practices, a close neighbour of ILS HQ. I know town’s on my doorstep, but I was glad to be staying local. The short stroll woke me up! And the CFCP is always a joy to visit.

Upon arrival, the place, a rather cool cellar-like Georgian basement on Pembroke St, was already fairly lively. I located a glass of red & found my friend by the canapes. Exotic pastry envelopes with strawberry, creme fraiche & pistachio. Munch! The Silk Road Exhibition, a showcase of photography & artwork, is running as part of the Silk Road Film Festival. A celebration of Silk Road voyages.

The exhibition is designed to introduce Asian & Middle Eastern art, culture & imagery & brings to life many of the countries along the legendary Silk Road route. Indeed, the crowd at CFCP was a melting pot of cultures & an indication of Dublin’s changing ethnic flavour. Photography includes several Irish artists, who have travelled the Middle East, with rich images of life steeped in Silk Road history.

Paintings feature works by artists from Iran, Yemen & Ireland. I particularly liked pieces by Michelle Boyle, Maliheh Zafarnezhad & Farnoosh Rahimi. The exhibition is a sea of colour & texture, allowing the observer to immerse in Silk Road culture. The gallery was officially opened by well-known actress Aisling O’Sullivan & there was a good talk by photographer & exhibition curator Fares Fares.

The Centre For Creative Practices is running the show until next Thursday & is screening a film (Ningen, Japenese) on Saturday afternoon at 5 pm, as part of the Silk Road Film Festival. I got chatting to Iranian film director, Mahmoud Kalari, a charismatic man who’s groundbreaking work is highly influential in Middle Eastern cinema. He told me his next project is a one continuous shot film. How cool.

Kalari is hosting a Cinematography Masterclass at The Screen cinema on Townsend Street from midday on Saturday, featuring break-downs of his Academy Award winning films. The Silk Road Film Festival runs until March 25th, with events including – Bahar Cultural Event, The Adventures of Mirzabalad & Dragonfly’s Pond. No better way to herald Persian New Year Nowruz, Festival of Spring.

Silk Road Exhibition – until Thursday 27th. Free entry. Curated by Fares Fares & Nasrin Saadat.

Centre For Creative Practices, 15 Pembroke Street Lower, Dublin 2 / www.cfcp.ie / www.silkroadfilmfestival.com

Mar 17, 2014

Busyfeet & Coco – Cosy & Cool

Wandering across town from A to B last week I bumped into an old pal. The beauty of Dublin. We both looked at our watches & scheduled in some urgent tea & cake. Since we were on Stephen Street, Busyfeet & Coco came under my radar. An old haunt of mine at the top of South William Street, near Peter’s Pub. Used to be a fave pitstop between the office & college back when I was earning & learning.

Of course, I went for the usual. Apple berry crumble, served warm with cream, & a hot chocolate. My mate ordered a nice wedge of carrot cake & a pot of tea. Busyfeet & Coco has a Continental feel. Couples huddled in corners, arty types reading the paper, students buried in notebooks. I always feel at home here, whether alone or in company. Small tables are dotted around, with seating outside too.

Homely cake is inviting in trays at the counter. The apple berry crumble is still as good as ever! If you’re looking for more, Busyfeet & Coco is open all day with excellent breakfast, lunch & dinner menus. Try out their cheese & bacon burger, classic BLT, grilled goat’s cheese salad or Mexican chicken wrap. Casual deliciousness! Or go sophisticated on Saturday night with a cheese board, wine & live music.

Busyfeet & Coco, 41-42 South William Street, Dublin 2

Mar 9, 2014

The Cupcake Bloke – Nice Buns!

Mooching about town is one of my fave things to do. I love seeing who’s out to play! The usual townies, hipsters & Irish celebs. Sometimes actual celebs – Beyonce was hanging out in Dublin this week. I didn’t see her at Coppinger Row, where she dined with Jay Z & Blue Ivy. But me & Ma did go for lunch at The Pyg, where none other than Franc was sat next door. Dublin really is a metropolis these days!

I wonder if Bey stopped by The Cupcake Bloke at Coppinger Row Market. We did. I’ve never knowingly walked past cake & it was the super cute owl biscuits that caught my attention. The Cupcake Bloke does the best scones in town too. There was one left – raspberry – and it was calling my name! The savoury scones are yummy. Black pudding & apple, bacon & cabbage. Freshly baked & only two euro.

Cupcakes, naturellement, are the main attraction with a different Flavour of the Day. Full Irish Breakfast anyone? Don’t worry, it’s vanilla flavour. Teenie tiny rashers, sausages & eggs done with sweeties. How clever! There’s Fererro Rocher, carrot cake, banoffi & loads more delish varieties, including gluten-free. Graham is the bloke in the apron & Daithi is the guy behind the stall. Beside Powerscourt Townhouse – Thursday, Friday & Saturday. As a well known cake-spert, they get my vote!

The Cupcake Bloke, Coppinger Row Market, South William Street, Dublin 2

Feb 28, 2014

Article – Cool Stuff

Powerscourt Townhouse. My fave place to window shop in Dublin. I recently read in a book called The Joy Of Less how to go shopping & just enjoy the view. However there are a couple of places in here where I’m happy to get my wallet out. Article is one of them. It’s that kinda place where you go in & say “I wish my gaff looked like this”. Housed in a high ceilinged room, Article looks & feels uber smart.

I popped in during the week in search of an interesting birthday card & found loads of other cool stuff. Furniture was the first thing to catch my eye. Beautifully restored vintage pieces included a super slick 1960s wooden record cabinet & matching lounge chair. Imagine sitting, listening to your fave tunes, retro record player on the top. Stylish. Article has a real knack for sourcing pieces with character.

Spring clean your interior ideas & check out the new stock at Article. Spirograph inspired plates, pastel print tableware & handwoven blankets from Studio Donegal to curl up on the sofa until summer arrives. If you’ve got a wedding coming up, go unique. Cancel the cheque & pick up a contemporary gift at Article. A Matt Pugh carved wooden owl f’rinstance. I love a well made item that’ll last. Y’see, minimalist chic!

Article, Powerscourt Townhouse, South William Street, Dublin 2 / www.articledublin.com

Feb 21, 2014

Jasmine Bar – Unknown Pleasure

Brooks Hotel on Drury Street looks terribly unassuming from the outside. You’ve probably walked past it a million times. But step inside & you’ll find the Jasmine Bar, an oasis of calm in the city. It’s been a secret haunt of mine for years. Lunch, afternoon tea, a cheeky Tom Collins. We’ve done family dinner in Francesca’s Restaurant on many occasions too. Brooks is a hidden gem, in the middle of town.

Not being a seen-to-be-seen kind of place, the Jasmine Bar offers the sort of peace & quiet to sit back & relax. With Ma & Pa just back from their hols, it was the perfect spot to settle in & hear all about it. We ordered off the lunch menu. Caesar salad for me & Greek salad for Herself. A turkey & stuffing sandwich with a cup of tomato soup for Dad. And we shared some wonderfully robust potato wedges.

The measured service at Brooks is luxe, not lax. Staff are highly trained, lending a Continental feel of being looked after. We could use more of it in Dublin. Everything was laid gently on our table, with a smile. The food is simple, but something to write home about. Award winning chef, Patrick McLarnon, is the main man at Francesca’s. His use of local artisan ingredients extends to the Jasmine Bar.

My Caesar was fresh & crunchy with lovely dark Romaine leaves. Ma’s Greek was just as well put together. We’re salad experts, y’know. We liked these mucho! Dad’s sambo went down a treat & his soup was nice & tangy. The menu has a good choice of sandwiches – tomato, mozzarella & basil, McConnells Organic smoked Irish salmon – & the hearty Brooks burger or a beef & Guinness stew.

If you want to linger on after lunch, then you’re in the right place. The Jasmine Bar is one of the best whiskey bars in the country, offering a Whiskey Tasting Experience for groups. Any wonder Madre loves this joint… The cocktail menu offers indulgent tipples too. If you’re looking for a bit of fun though, check out Brooks Private Cinema Club. Really rather cool. Great films & better food than any Cineplex.

Jasmine Bar, Brooks Hotel, Drury Street, Dublin 2 / www.brookshotel.ie

Feb 19, 2014

The Pepper Pot – Rustic Lunch

What a lovely afternoon. I met up with an old mucker for a good chinwag & a nice cuppa. The Pepper Pot in Powerscourt Townhouse is his latest townie go-to place. I hadn’t been. And I’m glad I did now! What a super cute cafe. Overlooking the centre, from one of the balconies, The Pepper Pot is all open space & home spun goodness. The menu is short but sweet & has something for everyone, even me.

Not that I’m fussy, like. I just don’t eat meat. There’s plenty of fishy or veggie options here though. I went for a special of potted trout, while my mate fancied a mini soup – celeriac, pear & ginger – with a roast pear, bacon & Montgomery cheddar sambo. Mine came with mixed leaves, pickled cucumber & rounds of crunchy toast. A solid topping turned out to be butter, not lard, but I handed it over anyway.

Everything came on mismatched vintage crockery, surprisingly un-twee. Because the food is so well put together, the presentation added to the experience. Soup in a little China tea cup, is only good when it’s very tasty soup. A couple of blackberry, pear (in today’s kitchen, obviously) & sage lemonades tasted as good as they looked, in tall glasses. As fellow sugar enablers we rounded off with cake, of course.

Our sweet waitress brought a rich slab of chocolate biscuit cake, infused with Maltesers & Crunchie, & a flourless chocolate cake, that oozed out when broken with a fork. Made with love, that’s for sure. In fact, the chefs here have kindly passed on some of their cake recipes to my mate. Also a mean baker! A choice of Lyons or Barry’s tea is the sort of attention to detail I like. Barry’s, since you’re asking!

The Pepper Pot, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, South William Street, Dublin 2 / www.thepepperpot.ie

Feb 14, 2014

Montys of Kathmandu – Spice & All Things Nice

Birthday dinner! My fella lives next door to Montys in Temple Bar, so we’ve always wanted to go. This place is something of a Dublin institution – award winning & here long before all the other good food on offer now. So we went on Tuesday to celebrate another year of me. It’s small but charming. Mahogany carvings & oriental tapestries lend an exotic air to this Nepalese restaurant. It smells yummy! Tables are close knit, making for an intimate vibe. Keep your conversation polite, lest you frighten the neighbours. Great people watching spot. We settled in to our little table & munched on some crunchy poppadoms. Plenty of traditional Nepalese fare, interesting sounding dishes & great choice for veggie types.

Finally, we went for spicy potatoes & peas in ginger & coriander (Aloo Kerau Chat Pat) & king prawns in a light batter to start. Both delectably, delicately flavoured. Main courses were traditional Nepalese curry (Ledo Bedo) with prawns for me & Chicken Chilli Nanglo (speciality from a Kathmandu restaurant) for Himself. Served with plain rice & Peshwari Nan. And an Organic Chilean red to wash it all down.

The Ledo Bedo was one of the best curries I’ve eaten in my life. I haven’t had anything this good since my London days. Owners Lina & Shiva Gautam use a light hand in their kitchen, freshly grinding spices & blending flavours to perfection. Velvety sauce complemented the prawns, rather than overpowering. The Bloke’s chicken dish came on a hot plate & was tossed with tomato, ginger & garlic. Delish.

Everything was served on traditional brass, which really added to the authenticity of the food. Peshwari Nan was flat & covered in crushed almonds. I ate loads, but wasn’t stuffed. Unlike Indian food, Nepalese does not use cream, so it goes down easy. Montys is the real deal. We ate like kings & enjoyed gorgeous wine, for less than 80 quid. It was warm & lively. The staff were top class. A really great place!

Montys of Kathmandu, 28 Eustace Street, Dublin 2 / www.montys.ie

Feb 13, 2014

Costumes Parisiens – Chester Beatty Library

It was my birthday on Tuesday, so I went up town looking for some action. Well, I went to the Chester Beatty Library, actually. There was a bit of excitement though, with the snow storm & all. It felt so romantic to be swept up in a mid-February blizzard. I ran through the grounds of Dublin Castle, finally finding refuge in the Silk Road Cafe. Wet coat off, tea & fresh orange cake on. This place was made for comfort…

Costumes Parisiens is showing at the Chester Beatty since October & it was finally my chance to have a goo. The exhibition features the unique illustrations of Journal des Dames et des Modes (1912-1914). One hundred years after it’s publication, these fashion plates give us a taste for the elegant styles of du jour. It was Beatty’s glamorous wife, Edith, who encouraged him to acquire the magazine.

The fine sketches depict a whimsical side of style, which is really what fashion is all about. A rich & exotic opulence, characterised by Orientalism, Neo-Classical French & Art Nouveau design with rich fabrics & bold patterns. Costumes Parisiens serves as a record of the growth of haute couture & the revolutionary path to modern women’s apparel. It celebrates luxury & craftsmanship in fashion.

Gowns, dresses, hats & handbags – the French woman at the turn of the century was a leading arbiter of style. These original prints from George Barbier, Leon Bakst & Bernard Boutet de Monvel capture ladies of the Belle Epoque era at leisure & play. Vivid colours & intricate detail relay the womanly art of dressing. Although the menswear is equally beguiling, it’s the feminine look that truly inspires.

I particularly enjoyed the display of real handmade clothing. So beautiful, these gowns held such allure in their fabric, draping & embellishment. It makes me rue the day Penneys was invented. Imagine Madame wearing leggings? Me neither… Costumes Parisiens is a must-see for those who appreciate a stylish aesthetic or those who simply enjoy beautiful graphics. Showing until March 30th 2014.

Costumes Parisiens, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin Castle, Dublin2 / www.silkroadcafe.ie

Feb 11, 2014

Evita – Powerful Romance

It was off to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, a hop, skip & a jump from ILS HQ, last night for Evita. Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice’s all-singing, all-dancing tale of Argentina’s legendary “spirit of the nation”, Eva Peron. First stop for us, me & Dad, was Herbstreet on Hanover Quay. Where else? Always a full house during sell out shows, we enjoyed a warm welcome & a bustling atmosphere. The perfect place for pre-theatre chow.

The menu at Herbstreet changes with the seasons, but one thing that remains the same is their scrummy sweet potato wedges. Big chunks of foodie love served with chipotle & lemon feta dips. So we shared those, alongside baked Cooleeney with sourdough bread & quinoa salad for me & a special of grilled halloumi with fruity cous cous & apricot chutney for Dad. All totes delish, needless to say!

Dessert followed at the Upper Circle bar, where we paired our drinkies with a box of Cocoa Atelier chocolates. Ambassador… Well, it is my birthday! The view of Grand Canal Docks from here, is one of the best features of the Bord Gais Energy Theatre. A magical slice of modern Dublin. Yes, Sir. We soon took our seats, for the performance. The Gods. I must say, I do like watching from the Upper Circle.

Is it wrong to fancy Marti Pellow? Starring as narrator Che (channelling Che Guevara, but not quite him), Pellow looks swashbuckling swarthy in his combats and bovver boots. Of course, I remember him from his Wet Wet Wet days, when as a ten year old I was a little bit in love with him. Pellow is now an accomplished Wet End player, as well as a successful solo artist. And still quite handsome too…

A deep throat opener from Che, brings us to Evita’s state funeral where her passing is mourned by the nation. Then we go back in time to 1940s Argentina, where small town girl Eva Peron lets her larger than life personality do the talking, or singing in this case. In search of the big time, she persuades tango singer Agustin Magaldi to take her to Buenos Aires. Eva is ready for her first bite of the Big Apple.

With bright lights in her eyes Eva climbs the society ladder, forging a career as an actress & model. Following a devastating earthquake, Eva meets Juan Peron at a charity ball. Together they rise to power, during a time of political turmoil, to become President & First Lady of Argentina. Under Peron’s wing, Evita transcends her humble beginnings to national sweetheart. Theirs is a tale of enduring love.

Evita sweeps us up in a heady cocktail of romance & power as Eva, played superbly by Madelena Alberto, & Juan Peron, played by stage veteran Mark Heenehan, fuse together to make an unforgettable alliance. From the start of their affair, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” to the height of their reign, “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” the stage is a hotbed of emotion. Pure Rice & Lloyd Webber magic.

Alberto’s mighty voice takes us through the highs & lows of Evita’s political opus & into the bosom of her marriage. The love between her & Peron is reflected onto the raging streets of Argentina. This production highlights Evita’s magnificent wealth against a backdrop of Argentina’s desperate “shirtless”, represented by Che throughout. Her heart must outshine her diamonds, as far as they are concerned.

A captivating “High Flying Adored” between Eva & Che, leads us into her infamous Rainbow Tour of Europe. Evita puts on the performance of her life, while at the same time fighting a losing battle with her failing health. She rallies behind Peron, but he must watch his beloved burgeon in spirit & wither in strength. She clings to him, all she has left. “You Must Love Me” brought a tear to my eye.

Evita really captures the heat of Buenos Aires at the time, with the Perons cast against a lively ensemble of good time girls, military men & ordinary folk. I enjoyed the costumes in particular, from flirty tea dresses to dapper uniform, they conveyed times past when both men & women held their own brands of allure. Evita’s glamour to Peron’s steady presence. A winning combo in any day & age.

The final scenes see out the tragedy of Evita’s untimely death with Peron pledging “She Is A Diamond” to her & “Eva’s Final Broadcast” as her heart wrenching last stand. We’re back in black for her funeral, Che to the fore once again lamenting her death with all of Argentina. Evita is an icon for women & Madelena Alberto’s invigorating turn is a triumph of passion & self realisation. A spectacular show!

Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2 / www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie / Herbstreet, Hanover Quay, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2 /www.herbstreet.ie

Dec 5, 2013

Merry Dublin! Twelve Shops of Christmas

Dublin city centre is looking really smart right now. Twinkling lights, winding lane ways and lots of lovely shops. Forget suburban Yummy Drummie malls and get where the action’s at. And you can have a pint after a hard days shopping! Town is back with a bang this Christmas. Dublin has reinvented itself as a cool city, following some lean years, and paved the way for a fresh mix of creative retailers and arty shops.

Okay, first thing for out of towners – keep off Grafton Street and Henry Street. The really interesting shops are behind the scenes. Dublin’s Creative Quarter is a buzzing hive between Wicklow, Georges and South William Streets. Lots to do and see here! From so hip it hurts to vintage gems and artisan foods to quirky boutiques, this jam packed area keeps on giving. Other side of the Liffey, Moore and Capel Streets are festive hotspots.

It’s tradition chez moi to do a family shopping day every Christmas. We meet at midday, fuel up on coffee and cake, mill about town picking out our pressies and finish with pub grub and some well earned pints. We get to soak in the Christmas vibes and ensure that nobody receives rubbish gifts. Winner! Dad likes books, the Bruv likes music and Mother loves hand crafts. Here’s where we’ll be heading…

1.) Makers & Brothers & Others. When I first chanced upon this new shop on Dame Lane, I was intrigued. There was cakes in the window, what can I say… I wanted to know what was inside. This smart lifestyle pop-up is the work of the Jonathan and Mark Legge, the crafty siblings behind Makers & Brothers. They’ve collaborated with a hip set of Irish designers to bring us some pretty cool stuff.

Cakes are from The Wild Flower Bakery and look almost too good to eat. Billed as a tiny seasonal department store, Makers & Brothers & Others is a joy to explore. The antidote to commercial Christmas. I liked twisty wooden stools from James Carroll, tableware from Jerpoint Irish Glass and a fun knitted fox from Claire-Anne O’Brien. Go here for housey things and kiddie gifts. And a cup of tea.

2.) Clerys. It’s back! After a devastating flood this summer, Dublin’s fave department store was closed for a five month refurbishment. Although Clerys has been a much loved haunt of mine, it was seriously in need of a facelift. And here it is, all shiny and bouncy, but retaining it’s old skool charm. Perfect. I was afraid I wouldn’t recognise it, but fear not – it’s Clerys, only better. The shop floor is bright and uncluttered with original features polished. And, well, modrin. Christmas under one brand new roof.

Chic newbies include – Moda in Pelle, True Decadence and Apanage. Gone are the granny wedding hats and in are quality handbags, scarves and shoes you really want in your wardrobe. Clerys offers substance and style. Send Himself to Carphone Warehouse, new on the ground floor, while you browse Benetton, Mexx and Mango. Meet Mother at The Tea Rooms and bring the kids to Santa’s Joy Factory.

3.) Powerscourt Townhouse Centre. I do love this place. It’s like a calm oasis in, y’know, the sprawling metropolis that is Dublin… Powerscourt is the ideal Christmas venue with plenty of artisan shops, galleries and cafes. First up, party outfits. Go vintage at The Loft Market and Irish at Marion Cuddy, both regular spots for yours truly. Up the glamour stakes at Covet, Design Centre and Dawn Fitzgerald. Genius for cool casuals.

Gift-wise, Powerscourt Townhouse Centre caters well for the hard-to-buy-for crowd. For something unique head to Article, an eclectic collection of funky objets and house wares. Bow for pretty little things. A Rubenesque and The Garden for decorations and flowers. Try the Bonsai Shop for an alternative Crimbo tree. Kennedy and McSharry for a tweed flat cap. The Bloke loves his! Rosemantic fellas who are thinking of popping the ultimate Christmas surprise… The best antique jewellery in Dublin. She’ll love it. And you!

4.) Ferocious Mingle Marcade. Believe it or not you can buy your Crimbo pressies second hand. Simply vintage, Darling! With so much post-recessionary re-purposing going on these days, markets are super spots to pick up something a bit different. The Marcade has moved from it’s old location to a bohemian den on Camden Street. I used to live in this part of town and am so excited by how lively it’s become. Wind your way up from the city with leisure.

Shopping, entertainment and food. What more do you want? These guys know how to throw a party too! Open every Thursday to Sunday, join in the fun with stalls selling everything from antique clocks and mirrors and grunge princess fashions to pre-loved books and handmade soaps. Relax after a hard days shopping at Dublin’s tiniest cinema and munch on home baked goodies from Oscar Verne’s Coffee Bar.

5.) Cocoa Atelier. Christmas is the one time of the year that you’re allowed to stuff your chops and get away with it. But I call quality over quantity. Instead of reaching into a tin of Roses, I’ll be savouring artisan chocolates from Cocoa Atelier. This is my (the Bloke’s) go-to place for sweet treats. Cocoa Atelier was born when French chef, Marc Amand, spotted a gap in the market for gourmet chocs in Ireland. Good work!

The shop, on Drury Street, is like stepping through a portal to Paris. Chic black and white detail show the exquisite chocolates off to their best, but it’s the taste that counts. There’s a range of flavours to choose from, including – salted caramel, ginger, lime, mango, chestnut honey and Earl Grey – as well as myriad bars and luxe foodie gifts. The chocolate Christmas baubles are too cute! Buy colourful macaroons and delicate eclairs for your Christmas table. And hot chocolate for now!

6.) Georges Street Arcade. I’ve been shopping here since my teenage days, when I was first allowed into town all by myself. Me & my best mate used to browse records and smoke ciggies. Good times! So the Arcade has a special place in my heart. The shops have changed over the years, new ones popping up all the time. But some things remain the same, like Simon’s Place, the cosy cafe that keeps me and the Bloke so well fed.

Housed in a Victorian redbrick market, Georges Street Arcade offers a quirky collection of shops. Pick up retro vinyl at Spindizzy Records (Himself is a regular), silver and stones at New Moon Jewellery and stocking fillers at Bombay Banshee. Make like Uncle Gaybo and hit Beaux Bows for your geansai Nollaig. Or try sheepskin in The Gift of Warmth to keep the chill out. And a Pieminister with mushy peas & mash!

7.) Siopaella. Can’t afford Brown Thomas? Then get down to Temple Bar. They say you can’t put a price on love, but at Siopaella you’ll find great deals on Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. And just about every designer you can think of. Items are selected by owner, Ella, who picks the cream of pre-loved, worn once and labels on fashion. She’ll even style you a fabulous party outfit.

The great thing about Siopaella is you’ll find something that nobody else has. With two stores, one on Crow Street the other on Temple Lane, offering high street to high end there’s plenty to suit your budget. I’ve scored a Rachel Mackey cashmere cardi, silk Custo dress and a Chesneau handbag among many bargains. Watch out for box fresh Louboutins. Siopaella’s menswear is the best pre-loved in town. Mother loves their vintage jewellery.

8.) Project 51. Tucked away on Dublin’s premier hipster strip, South William Street, this Irish design collective has it’s finger on the pulse. Project 51 is a creative hub and retail space. Hannah Flew runs things front of house, where there’s a great selection of gifts and home grown wedding items. I love Anita Conway handmade lace garters, intricate Grace O’Reilly Jewellery and stunning Kate Betts Hats.

Finding surprises is one thing I really enjoy when shopping, and out the back of Project 51 is a fun place to nose around. Funky neon clubwear brought me back to 90s London where I spent my college days wandering around Camden Market. Only for the young and daring! Meanwhile, there’s plenty in for Christmas. Nik’s Tea gift sets, Gillian Field illustrated mugs and Airmid Natural handmade soaps.

9.) Chapters. Here’s a place me and the Bloke could spend hours happily ignoring each other, lost in row after row of books. Chapters is spread out over two gigantic floors, new books on the ground floor and second hand upstairs. Stocking the whole gamut of readables from fiction and biography to reference and educational. There’s more art, photography, fashion and cookery books than you can shake a stick at. Chapters is also a great source for Irish books and lesser known titles.

It’s not just books here. Chapters does a great range of stationery too, including cards, notebooks and diaries. Brilliant stocking fillers. I went in to get a book for the Bruv’s birthday and these guys ordered it specially, with only one day delivery. The service is top notch. Upstairs is the place for random finds – the best way to buy books! Swing by Moore Street afterwards for fresh fruit and Paris Bakery for cakes.

10.) Cows Lane Designer Studio. Mother and me love this place. At the cool end of Temple Bar, Cow Lane Designer Studio showcases the best of Irish design and crafts. We’re big fans of Deirdre Griffin glass fusion jewellery. Her rings and earrings are simple yet striking. Manned by the designers themselves you can chat about creative techniques or commission a special piece in person. The atmosphere here is open and friendly.

A nice present-to-self (g’wan. I won’t tell anyone) would be a hat from Shevlin Millinery. John Shevlin’s head wear is beautifully made and well established in the Irish fashion world. Wear it on Christmas Day! Choose unique gifts from handmade Brookwood Pottery, fresh on the shelves, Bouji Organic candles and the softest scarves from Daiva’s Textiles. Cows Lane Designer Studio is also home to great prints and artwork. Come here for house inspiration.

11.) Fallon & Byrne. A top spot for posh foodie gifts, this place stocks a mouthwatering array of Christmas treats. Their fabulous hampers include a hand picked selection of the best artisan produce. Try the Gourmet Irish, which includes – Cashel Blue cheese, Pandora Bell nougat, Ummera Organic Irish smoked salmon, Mella’s butter fudge and Fallon & Byrne’s famous house granola. The food of life!

The Food Hall provides all you need for a tasty Christmas dinner table. Organic fruit and veg, fresh meat and fish, charcuterie and antipasti. There’s also amazing choice when it comes to the high end pantry – Italian extra virgin olive oils, French mustards and teas from around the world. The wine shop is well worth a visit too. Grab a seat by the front window and people watch Wicklow Street with delectable cakes and Dublin’s best latte. Yes Sir!

12.) Avoca. I’ve always loved Avoca, just for the pure chance to channel one’s fantasy lifestyle through their dotty displays and dreamy scenarios. I often picture myself wrapped up in a lambswool blanket, taking Ceylon and scones by a blazing fireside. Bliss. My most recent purchase was, in fact, one of their mill woven blankets as a wedding gift for friends. There’s a rainbow of jewel colours to pick from.

Appealing to the girl in me, Avoca does everything pretty. Kitsch even. Patterned plates, quirky teapots, ceramic door knobs, glass jewellery and cutesy hats. Clothes are whimsical yet totally wearable. The kids section is great fun with adorable wooly jumpers, Jellycat teddies and a sugar rush sweetie hamper. For the chef in your life, head for the kitchen gear, delicatessen and super yummy cookbooks.

So now you know where to go! I’ve gotta say, Dublin has become a real arty little city over the last few years, now that we’re out of the Tiger’s claw. I love nothing more than mooching around town – the Creative Quarter, Temple Bar, Capel Street – and chancing upon new shops and cafes. Do check out as many independent stores as you can, they’re so much more exciting and original. Happy shopping!

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