|Beautiful Sligo by blogger/photographer magnumlady.com|
With the car loaded up, we said goodbye to Dunree and Inishowen and headed south for Co Sligo. From here our plan was quite loose, so it wasn’t until somewhere between Ballyshannon and Bundoran that we reached the decision to stop in Sligo town – primarily to pay a visit to a friend of Clonakilty Lass who owns a little café called Grappa in the town centre, but also to have a bit of snoop about for whatever else looked good. After around two and a half hours or so on the road, we pulled up by the Garavogue River and sauntered down Rockwood Parade towards the café.
|Hargadon's traditional pub and restaurant in Sligo|
Overstaying our meter by a mere 20 minutes, thankfully sans clamp, we set off on our way once again towards Galway. With the addition of a quick pit-stop at Galway Girl’s family farm for some tea and fig rolls, it was approximately a further hour and a half before we were glamming ourselves up for the night ahead in Galway city – make-upping and preening within the confines of our bunks in our en suite dorm in Barnacles hostel (the only show in town for hostel accommodation, in my not very humble opinion).
|Obligatory olde bike outside 'hip' Ard Bia|
Eventually though, the menus were delivered (and a bottle of prosecco ordered before they hit the table cloth), and we were back on track. On account of our impromptu feed in Conrad Gallagher’s bistro earlier – and the big breakfast before that…. and tea and biscuits afterward – we decided we’d split a mezze plate for starters. Three very tasty versions of hummus, including a beetroot one, and a delicious lamb sheek kebab, served with some lovely fresh salady bits and some decent pitta, went down a treat. For the mains, the three chefs couldn’t resist the offer of ray wing on special, so all three went for it: beautifully fried and served with crab butter, albino beetroot, and pak choi. We also scoffed the local Killary mussels with great chunks of chorizo and a hot and spicy (we suspected harissa) broth. This was actually a starter but the kitchen very obligingly made it into a main size portion and furnished some crusty bread for mopping up the tasty sauce. All dishes were well appreciated by our discerning palates, and yet again we found ourselves in receipt of good value for money. On the prosecco (which was decent) and a bottle of delectable Paddy Borthwick Paper Road Pinot Noir we scarcely spent €60, while the food over-delivered at the lower end of mid-range prices.
From there we headed out into the night, and what happened in Galway stays in Galway! Suffice to tell you it happened in the Quay Street vicinity, involving pubs including The Kings Head, The Quays, and The Front Door. Enough said.
|Galway (most fun town outside Dublin). Pic from An Taisce|
Thanks to a prior arrangement to meet a friend for coffee in the morning, we got ourselves and our hangovers up at a ludicrously early our and hit the road before 9.30am. Painful it was but we were glad in the end. The early start cleared the heads in advance of brunch so that sensible decisions could be made about where to eat. Since über-talented New Zealander Jess Murphy had just opened Kai, it really would have been inexcusable to have missed it during our short visit to Galway – especially in favour of going for hangover grub at some unspeakable outlet, such as the kind that pours liquid cheese on your chips.
|Example of beautiful simple food at Kai|
You won’t find a current menu on their website, because Kai doesn’t roll that way (what with everything being so local and seasonal it changes every day) However, you will find a sample of the fabness to be found there, as well as other important details like how to find them... I can’t stress enough though that Kai is a special place worth finding.
On to Athlone...
So, after another magical encounter of the foodie kind, we got back in the car and decided to head to Salthill for a walk and an ice cream. Sadly, however, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we changed our course for Athlone, partly thinking of conditions improving as we headed east, and partly thinking of finding somewhere to hang out and enjoy ourselves some more.
The Left Bank Bistro in Athlone provided the very thing. I’d not been in since 2009, when I reviewed it as part of a piece for Food & Wine on places to visit over Easter – it has just the right kind of comfy vibe that makes you want to hang out and indulge a bit. Perfect for long weekends (or Sundays when you’re just in that kind of mood), and I was happy to find that the place was the same as the last time I’d visited. We parked ourselves in the café-like front of the bistro and – you’ve guessed it – ordered a few glasses of wine for the girls (who still hadn’t shared any of the driving with our long suffering friend Wexford Lad). As we sipped and chatted, we glanced nonchalantly over the menu. We never did get those ice creams in Salthill so it wouldn’t hurt to sample a little something, surely? It would have been rude not to!
The chicken wings stared temptingly at us from the lunch menu, as did creamy ham and mushroom pasta. I remembered the heartiness of a beef and Guinness stew I’d eaten on my last visit and imagined how good those chicken wings and/or creamy pasta would be right at that moment. However, I did cop on in time to realise that this would have been pure gluttony and, much worse than that, would possibly ruin our appetites for the main event at VM in Longford later on. So instead we contented ourselves by perusing the home-baked cakes and confections perched on the counter, settling on a piece of light but rich lemon Madeira cake with a lemon curd filling, and another of coffee mocha Madeira cake with coffee butter icing. Each piece was gargantuan and served with fresh whipped cream (both under a fiver) and we demolished them quickly declaring the lemon as the winner. It’s hard to beat lemon curd, in fairness. Then we hung out for what seemed like another hour at least, chatting and relaxing without a care, or the need to order anything more.
Finally, though, we had reached the last leg of the journey – the one I was dying for – so into the car we got and away to Longford and Viewmount House for the ultimate and most grand feast of the lot.
The car rolled through the open country roads at pace, Lady Gaga blasting from the ipod – me singing atrociously in between giving wrong directions – and all of us now too excited to read any more stories about how bad Cheryl Cole’s hair was at the US X Factor launch (which was very, very bad, FYI). Finally, after three days of touring and eating and drinking, we arrived at the gates of Viewmount House, relieved to have made it after brains and google maps had sent us wrong – and I being a Dubliner couldn’t orientate myself when not travelling in a straight line from Dublin.
I had ventured up to VM once before in 2009, having heard some buzz about the place soon after it had opened. It’s only an hour or so from Dublin (which may surprise those not aware) and I had been impressed by the keen cookery and use of excellent local, seasonal produce. This time I was excited to see how things had progressed. As we got out of the car, I immediately spied chef Gary O’Hanlon coming from the garden on his way back to the kitchen to begin dinner service. Maybe it was his Donegal lilt as he gave us a big cheery welcome, or maybe it was the basket of fresh herbs and chive flowers in his hand, but as we entered the house we felt like we were going to feel right at home here. We also got the feeling we were in for something special.
...the remainder of the VM review is covered in its own blog post (as it was quite epic). See Part III to find out about what is clearly one of the best restaurants in Ireland.