Fuchsia is bright for excellent Asian food
Dundalk Road, Ardee, Co, Louth.
I'm always on the hunt for new places to eat, so I don't often get the chance for repeat visits. It's always good to have a second chance to try a restaurant, to see if what I wrote the first time still holds true. Is it still a good restaurant like I said? Or has it improved from the dismal diner it was the last time I was there?
I met my old pal Michael Lowesly this week for lunch in Alexis in Dun Laoghaire. I've praised Alexis on many occasions in print, as indeed have many others, but it's been a while since I was there.
I can report that not only is it still a very good restaurant, I think it might actually have gotten better. Add this to the fact that its already reasonable prices have been reduced, and you have a bargain on your hands for lunch. Perfectly executed main courses were just €9.
On what has to have been the finest spring weekend I can remember, I was in Connemara -- which, when the weather is fine, must be one of the most stunning parts of Ireland. I had dinner in Renvyle House and it has been maybe five years since I was last there, but chef Tim O'Sullivan hasn't lost his touch: the food is as good as ever. That he manages to keep the standards so high for such a large dining room is a testament to his skill. Getting to Connemara is not the trek it used to be thanks to the new motorway. I got from south Dublin to Renvyle in exactly three and a half hours, which makes the trip entirely painless.
Later that week I asked my offspring to find us a restaurant in any one of four counties -- Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny and Laois. Once the places I'd already reviewed had been removed from their list, there was nowhere open mid-week that they could find. Maybe it's too early in the year, or maybe the slow-down is biting harder than we thought, but if any reader can suggest somewhere in those counties, I'd be delighted to hear from them.
So we decided to go north instead. I've been meaning to get to Fuchsia House in Ardee for a while now, so this seemed the ideal opportunity. Usually I get my dinner guest to make the reservation, but when my dinner guests have the same surname as I do, that presents a problem. My daughter Isabella made the call and used my son's name to make the booking as Mr Rocco. Clever, eh?
We found Fuchsia House easily enough: you take the M1 north to exit 14, which leads you directly into Ardee. Fuchsia House is on your left as you come into the town. We pulled into the car park and told Rocco to go in first as Mr Rocco.
As we walked in the door we were greeted with: "Ah, you must be Rocco. And hello Mr Tullio, is this Isabella? You're all very welcome." I did the classic double-take. How could our cover be blown so quickly? So we asked and got the answer: "When I saw a Wicklow phone number come up and heard the name Rocco, I knew it must be you." I think I'll need to find a nom de guerre in future.
We made ourselves comfortable in a lounge to the left of the hallway and looked at the menus. There was a mid-week menu for €24 that offered four courses plus a half bottle of wine. I've seen some generous offers in the past 12 months, but that's an offer up there with the best of them.
Mind you, if you think four courses are too many, there's an early bird menu that runs until 9 o'clock that offers three courses for €16.90. Despite these two great-value menus my guests were determined to eat à la carte, because chef Sarajit Chanda, who is married to the lady who runs the front of house, Sarah Nic Lochlainn, has a really interesting à la carte.
I learned later that Sarah and Sarajit have travelled widely and so Sarajit's repertoire has become wide-ranging, covering northern and southern Indian cooking, Lebanese mezze, Thai curries and many European dishes.
All this made choosing hard, but eventually we settled on Thai fish cakes, onion bhaji and jhinga bhaji for starters, then Lebanese mezze, achari gosht and seabass in a soy and ginger sauce.
For both courses we put the dishes in the middle of the table and shared them, which meant we all got a taste of everything.
There's a short wine list that's very fairly priced and my guests started with a Belgian Leffe beer each, while I drank sparkling water. Isabella was keen to try the Australian Shiraz called Swallow's Tail at €22, which turned out to be okay, but certainly didn't hit the mark for Rocco, who prefers wines in the European style.
The food when it came was well up to the mark. Really tasty onion bhajis, then the jhinga bhajis, which are made with king prawns dipped in lentil flour and deep-fried, and fish cakes -- so often dry and unappealing, but here made with haddock, chilli and Thai spices they were delicious, moist and delicate. With these dishes there were dips, such as mint chutney, Thai dipping sauce and the best cucumber and yoghurt dip I've ever tasted. The main courses were of exactly the same high standard. The seabass was nicely cooked and firm-fleshed, and the flavours of soy and ginger were perfectly combined. The Lebanese mezze dish was a feast in itself, an array of different tasty morsels -- lamb koftas with hummus, tzatziki and roast red pepper purée, mushroom and chick pea tagine, pilaf rice and crispy bread.
I was particularly taken with the red pepper purée and the chick pea tagine. The achari gosht is a variant of the better known rogan josh, but with coarser ground spices and a darker, deeper flavour. Quite delicious.
Only Isabella was keen on dessert, so she ordered the khulfi, a kind of Indian ice-cream, this one flavoured with mango. We all forced ourselves to taste it, and although I'm not usually a fan of khulfi, I had to admit that this one was good. A couple of espressos finished this excellent meal and our bill came to €139.20.