It may not be as obscure as Donegal’s Murder Hole Beach but Cooden Beach is certainly lower profile than its better known Sussex coast neighbours Bexhill-on-Sea and Eastbourne. The Cooden Beach Hotel, a half timbered Tudoresque pile on a butterfly plan with wings, takes pride of place along the seafront. Set back on a grass bank also overlooking the shale beach is a row of white painted timber beach huts. Some have names: “Seagulls”; “Shanti”; “Tilly”. Quintessential English seaside. On a late spring day, Cooden Beach is as defined as a Mondrian, displaying tripartite horizontality under an endless sky.
We Used to Meet on Baggot Street Beside the Old Hotel
A Michelin starred restaurant named after the French word for ‘The Writer’ is an appropriate choice to hook up with a widely published philosopher. Excuse us! This isn’t a mere tête-à-tête à Terre à Terre. More like the geniuses of the place as a widely acclaimed architect joins us for lunch. Trois grand fromages. l’Écrivain has been on the go for 26 years which in hospitality terms isn’t so much a lifetime as multigenerational (pop ups are so last decade). We enter through an arch, darkly, past a mews bush, and into an oasis of light tranquillity off Baggot Street Lower.
The 16A would pull away and leave that diesel smell | And you’d be standing there by that Baggot Street hotel
And then that day we made our way down by the Liffeyside | In a bar we had a jar and watched the rain outside
Like London’s Chez Bruce, chef Derry Clarke is still the patron managing a team of chefs rather than a chain figurehead. That hasn’t stopped him penning two bestselling cookbooks and becoming a judge on Irish reality TV series Fáilte Towers (no, seriously). His wife Sallyanne manages front of house. After a sparkling (wine, conversation and sequins) reception in the ground floor bar we ascend to the first floor dining room. It’s a barn-like space for uncluttered minds to while away languid afternoons on banquettes and soft chairs. A Knuttel painting fills the gable end. Geometric glass panels – Mackintosh, Mondrian, Modigliani, Moholy-Nagy mash – diffuse the lavender glow of an early Celtic twilight.
We finished up our pints and we paid the barman’s bill | Walked back up the Liffey in the silence and the chill
Two pan seared scallops with smoked celeriac and pickled samphire (€11.50). Hake with glazed parsnips, velouté of cep mushrooms and salted grapes (€22.50). St Tola goat’s cheese mousse with rye crostini, figs, candied macadamia nuts, aged red wine vinegar and honey dressing (€8.75). Dark chocolate violet and blueberry macaroons (prodigal). Form and content at one: looks good, tastes good. Franco Irish feel good factor on a plate. l’Écrivain – it’s somewhere to write home about.
But still at times when I lie down I’ll dream and start to dance | With the long-gone ghost of Baggot Street | And an echo of romance