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How to run a neighbourhood restaurant: Carlow’s Cafe Formenti

formenti“Made with generosity, love and Mediterranean passion for life and good food”; “incomprehensibly delicious”; “enormous portions”: that’s how my friend Roisin described Cafe Formenti in a previous review.

I went down to Carlow last week for work, and finally had a chance to check out the place that has become Roisin’s second home. And I feel compelled to add my praise to Roisin’s previous plaudits. This little cafe is a case study in how to create a warm, welcoming, neighbourhood spot.

We arrived late – around 11 – on a Friday night. We’d just come from a gig in the gorgeous new GB Shaw Theatre, and we were starving.

Straight away, I was struck by how happy all the patrons were. Formenti had an instantly welcoming vibe, with a good band playing recognisable tunes at just the right volume. The restaurant was jammed without being uncomfortable, and a few punters were standing near the bar.

As it happened I bumped into some old Dublin neighbours (hello Jean, Aidan and Stephen!) who were down in Carlow for the weekend. They were just as taken by Formenti as I was. After a few lovely glasses of wine, we sat down for a wonderful slap-up feed: a generous portion of hake served with a smooth pea puree, delicious chips, and a big portion of veg. Plenty for one, and even though €18.50 ain’t exactly cheap, it fell into the “worth every penny” category.

I’d love to see more places like this around Dublin: nice friendly neighbourhood restaurants who pay as much attention to creating a sense of community and atmosphere as they do to the food. A few months ago, our own Maria Crispy wrote about Harold’s Cross neighbourhood restaurant Riva:

This is designed to be a neighbourhood restaurant, one where local people can come in alone with a book, bring their kids and drop in of an afternoon or evening without planning ahead, where prices are set a level to encourage you to think of it as less of a treat than an expeditious and regular relief from cooking. Bring on places like this I say. No effort beforehand and a short walk home/to the local pub afterwards.

Do you know of any great local neighbourhood restaurants like Cafe Formenti or Riva? What do you look for when eating locally?


  1. Yep – there’s a fabulous restaurant that’s been open for about 16 months now in Skibbereen in West Cork. Rachid and Dee Rettali are the chefs there and they have turned the place around with amazing local ingredients but cooked with a twist that only this pair have! Dee is a patisserie and Rachid is a chef – originally from Morocco (Dee is Irish). She has baked for Prince Charles and is now renowned for her cupcakes in West Cork. This little place is amazing and well worth a visit. Their website isn’t up to much yet but if you’re down this neck of the woods do stop by – you wont be disappointed!

  2. Whats it called Christine?

  3. I am thinking of spending a couple of nice relaxing days in Mount Wolseley soon and was wondering does anyone local know how far it would be from there to Cafe Formenti?

  4. Hockeysticks – I’d say you’d get from Tullow to Carlow in about 20-30 minutes, depending on the time of day. I don’t know which side of Carlow the cafe is on – so that could add a bit more time to trip. Peter might be able to help with that?

  5. It’s in the centre of the town, close enough to the Visual Centre and GB Shaw Theatre, but not sure exactly which side it’s on, sorry! I’ll ask my friend for the address.

  6. Hi Claire – Oops – it’s The Riverside in Skibbereen!