Refuel: Good catch * * *
Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill, 1 Bryanstown Centre, Drogheda, Co Louth Tel: 041 9802570
Reviewing out of town restaurants always takes a bit of planning. Drogheda should have been easy, the Eastern Seaboard Bar & Grill is within walking distance of the train station.
But when I suggested travelling on Irish Rail, The Terminal Bachelor was having none of it. "I'll drive," he said. "And I'll limit myself to a single beer."
"If you don't mind," I said, accepting the offer. But the enduring pessimist in me naturally regarded it as too good to be true.
And so it proved, when two miles from Stamullen we came to a Garda checkpoint and it transpired that the Bachelor had neither an NCT nor tax on his turbo-powered, gas-guzzling Alfa Romeo. "We're doomed," he said, eyeing a line of impounded cars along the hard shoulder.
As the prospect of having his beloved car taken away from him drew ever closer, The Bachelor started to exhibit signs of something approaching remorse. As one of life's most accomplished escapologists, the threat of consequence merely spurs him on to ever more dastardly acts. But now, faced with certain apprehension, he called for divine intervention, crossing his heart and hoping to die, he swore he would repent -- if he was let off the hook, just this once. As the car crawled to the top of the checkpoint, something miraculous happened. The guard smiled, and waved us on.
By the time we reached the Eastern Seaboard, the Bachelor's repentance had receded and was duly replaced with indignation about stealth taxes and something called "the Green agenda". "It's everywhere," he hissed, poking the menu. "Free-range this, ethically produced that. To hell with them, I'm going to start living by my own rules! I'm having two main courses!" "Knock yourself out," I told him, ordering myself a much-needed glass of Albarino.
Jeez, but the menu was a marathon read -- all the more demanding because there was much on it that I would have liked to try. Seafood abounds: crab claws and cakes, moules frites, trout paté, fried mackerel, beer-battered haddock, crispy whitebait and plenty more besides. For carnivores, the choice swings from barbecued ribs to grain fed, ethically produced veal chop -- with steak, pork belly, roast chicken and duck confit in between.
The Bachelor started with a main course of moules frites. The mussels were perfect, uniformly fat and peachy. As soft and saline as moules should be. The chips were not of the skinny Belgian variety, but thick with their crispy skins intact, salty outside, floury inside. And well, the result was nigh on faultless. Main courses come with a side (or two), so he opted for Asian slaw -- a gorgeous knot of shredded red cabbage tempered with sesame oil and seeds, and rice vinegar. I devoured it along with my own starter: calamari -- spidery squid that came in a small pail, and were dusted rather than battered, which I approved of, although they didn't hold their heat and quickly succumbed to sogginess.
I moved onto my second glass of Albarino -- from a decent wine list -- while The Bachelor honoured his pledge to have a single beer. Not that the choice of bottled beers would have tempted him, it's rare to come across such banality: Bud, Coors, Corona ... not even a Bruges blanc to compliment the high-performance moules. And so to the main courses -- my first, and the Bachelor's second.
He had spaghetti that was springy and al dente, dripping with fruity, green olive oil, and packed with garlic, chilli and juicy clams. It was excellent until you got to the end of the bowl when the oil became overbearing.
I had a hankering for fish -- the catch of the day was hake served in beurre blanc, but for the sake of variety, I made an ill-advised detour onto the meat section of the menu and ordered roast chicken.
It wouldn't be true to say that I've never had good roast chicken in a restaurant -- I just don't remember it. In this case, it had all the usual shortcomings: too dry and too bland, where do all the lovely juices go? Into the gravy perhaps, but that was so scant, I couldn't really tell. No complaints, however, about my chosen sides: roasted organic carrots -- chunky and delicious -- and green beans that were sweet and crunchy.
For fear of falling asleep in the car and missing something, I took dessert home with me: a spongily unspectacular bread and butter pudding, which came with the silkiest custard ever to pass these lips. A small, but not insignificant triumph that guaranteed the Eastern Seaboard left a sweet aftertaste. It aims, it shoots, and most of the time, it scores. Reminds me of someone I know -- someone who still hasn't paid his road tax.
Typical Dish: Crab claws in garlic butter
The damage: €75.05 for one starter, three mains, one dessert, one coffee, two glasses of wine and a beer
On the stereo: David Gray
At the table: Locals