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Location, location, location

Just back after 24 hours in Dublin.

I caught an early flight out yesterday and was home by eleven this morning.

My mission was to locate a suitable venue for a series of dinners Forest is organising in the city.

The initiative is called Burning Issues and each dinner will have a different theme. The plan is to invite 12-16 people for a roundtable discussion kick-started by a guest speaker.

There's nothing original about the idea. I attended a very similar event in London a couple of years ago. It was organised by the Institute of Ideas and the format worked rather well.

By coincidence the speaker at the first Burning Issues dinner in Dublin next month will be Claire Fox, director of the IoI and an old friend of Forest.

Finding a suitable location isn't easy, though. There are plenty of restaurants with private dining rooms but we wanted to find somewhere with a smoking terrace adjacent to the room.

The size and shape of the room have to work too, and the location can't have too much background noise.

One restaurant on our shortlist would have been ideal except for the fact that the private dining area was only 'semi-private'. All that separated it from the main restaurant was a thick velvet drape.

It reminded me of a restaurant I went to in Rome ten years ago. The legislation in Italy allowed proprietors to have a separate smoking room as long as certain fairly strict conditions were met.

For example, smoking rooms had to be equipped with automatic sliding doors to stop smoke spreading to other areas.

Not in the restaurant I went to. The smoking 'room' was separated from the rest of the establishment by a simple curtain.

Above our heads however was a ventilation system with enormous pipes that resembled the engine room of a ship.

The set up seemed to work, though, and everyone was happy.

Anyway, in the brief time I was in Dublin I think we've whittled the shortlist down to two.

The first is one of the best restaurants in the city. It has two private dining rooms. One is next to the kitchen so guests can watch the chef at work.

The other is on the first floor and offers greater privacy. It has air conditioning and, most important, direct access to a covered smoking terrace.

The downside is the shape of the room. It's long and narrow, which isn't ideal for a roundtable discussion.

The location of the second option on our shortlist has three dining areas for hire. One is a room on the ground floor off the small and rather dark public bar.

It's the right shape and an adequate size but it doesn't have air conditioning. In June, even in Ireland, it could get a bit hot and you can't open the windows because there would be too much noise from passing traffic.

On the top floor there's a bright, typically Edwardian room with views over St Stephen's Green. There's even a small smoking area, although it looked and felt more like a fire escape to me.

There were three or four round tables seating 4-6 people per table. For a roundtable discussion however that wouldn't work because everyone has to sit together, not be seated on separate tables.

Which brings me to the most intriguing option – a small wooden 'lodge' at one end of the outdoor smoking terrace, complete with its own bar and a fully retractable roof.

It can accommodate 16-20 people, seated in a square. Weather permitting the roof can be opened allowing guests to dine al fresco.

The safer option is the first one. The restaurant has a good reputation and enquiries suggest people enjoy going there.

The second is a bit of a wild card but that can sometimes be more fun.

We'll make our decision on Monday.

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