What started as an influx of Irish pubs, has now spread to restaurants and even sandwich bars. With St Patrick's Day looming, the shamrock factor has never been stronger.

James Dempsey, restaurant manager at Arkle's, the Irish restaurant that opens for business in the new Chelsea Village Complex next week (16 March), puts the current trend down to the fact that "the Irish are good at helping people enjoy themselves."

"We go around with a smile on our faces," says James who grew up in County Carlow in the southwest of Ireland "and people like that warmth and friendliness."

But what's so special about the food? "It's not nouvelle cuisine, it's not a chef arranging flowers on your plate, it's just good, fresh, well-cooked rustic food," explains James

And the taste of the Emerald Isle is already doing down well in the city, where O'Brien's Irish Sandwich Bar (an offshoot of a thriving Irish concern) is doing a brisk trade in Irish Whiskey Salami and Irish Cheddar doorsteps.

"They're certainly not your average M&S version," says manager Tina Kountouri. "People see our sandwiches and just think, Wow!"

To be sure!


Arkle's Chelsea Village Complex, Stamford Bridge, Fulham Rd, SW6 (0171- 565 1420) which is named after the famous racehorse, is already fully booked for St Patrick's Day, but is happy to take bookings for other dates. Not only is all the food imported from Ireland (Dublin Bay Prawns, Galway Bay Shellfish etc), but all the waiting and bar staff hail from there, too.

O'Brien's Irish Sandwich Bar, 57-48 Houndsditch, EC3 (0171-621 1655) There are also branches at 70 Tottenham Court Rd, W1 and in Chelmsford, Cambridge and Gatwick.

Waxy O'Connor's 14-16 Rupert Street, W1 (0171-287 0255)

In this huge pub (four bars), Irish food is available at Waxy's Dargle. As well as fresh seafood and traditional cheeses, St Patrick's Day specials include Rossmore oysters with soda bread and traditional Irish Stew. Open from noon to midnight on 17 March,there will also be live bands playing Irish music.

The O'Conor Don Bar and The Ard-Ri Dining Room 88, Marylebone Lane, W1 (0171-935 9311)

Although the upstairs dining room is already fully booked for St Patrick's Day, downstairs they will be serving Beef and Guinness stew and Donegal oysters in the bar.

Filthy McNasty's

68 Amwell St, EC1 (0171-837 6067)

Great atmosphere and great Guinness, and there's always the chance that Shane MacGowan could be slumped on the next bar stool to you. There are also regular poetry and literature events.