Proper bacon and cabbage, being Irish, when I was away travelling it was one of ther things that I craved. That and a pint of Guiness! :) As Obama said it just doesnt taste as good anywhere else. For ideas you should check out Darina Allen, shes kind of the Grandmother of Irish cuisine. A friend of mine is over in the States at the minute working and was surprised to see a few of her books. One in particular which I find fantastic is Forgotten Skills of Cooking. This will not only give you a better insight into traditional Irish food beyond the plastic paddy stuff you see everywhere, it will also give you an idea about the seasonality of ingredients here and what true peasant food was like in Ireland before microwaves and conveniece food.
Best of luck with the new venture if you take it on...
Oh and on corned beef, had it in the states and its awful. But good Cork spiced beef, think Darina has a recipe can be amazing...
As for upscale?? If you think French is a bistro upscale? I think you can still do nice well presented tasty dishes but keep it bistro equivalent style, earthy, warming, sustaining, it is a pub concept after all.
For fine dining, Kevin Thornton well respected Michelin chef based in Dublin has always done French twists on mostly local traditional ingredients, albeit truffles and exotic fruit are hardly local!
Heres a sample lunch menu to give you an idea
Obviously not a pub concept but pretty cool in my opinion. Especially like the idea of
Bacon and Cabbage Terrine with Pea Sorbet and Poitin Sauce.
Lately in recession Ireland restaurants have began the reign themselves in, and taken a more rustic approach to their food. McAllisters The Pigs Ear is a prime example, menus here might better suit an upscale pub concept.
Hope that helps!