Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at The Station House, Co Meath
The fashion designer Lainey Keogh is both an old friend and a neighbour of mine in the Wicklow Hills. She has had an extraordinarily busy 12 months, but finally we got a chance to do what we haven't done for a while, and that's go out for a meal together.
I had in mind a visit to The Station House in Kilmessan, which is in Co Meath. When I told Lainey of my plan, she said: "That's not far from the family farm. My nephews have just started a new enterprise as part of the family potato business -- they're making crisps."
Now, I've never seen industrial production of crisps, although I've made them occasionally with a mandolin and a deep-fat fryer. I was intrigued at the prospect.
So, I met Lainey early in the evening and we set off for her family homestead in north county Dublin, where her family potato business is based.
We met her brother Peter, his wife Denise and their two sons, John and Ross, the driving forces behind the new potato-crisp venture.
They're making what are known as kettle crisps -- the kettle here is an 800-litre hot-oil bath in which the crisps are cooked. Lovers of the curious and unusual might like to know that this particular kettle came from the Amish community of Pennsylvania.
I was fascinated by the whole process, from the machine that chops the potatoes into thin slices, to the conveyor belt that takes them into the kettle, to the cooking, cooling, flavouring and bagging of the crisps.
I can tell you that hot crisps straight from the kettle, before they're flavoured, are absolutely delicious.
This new generation of Keoghs is full of ideas -- not only have they started the crisps as a logical extension to the potato business, but they've also started to market seven- minute microwave-in-the-bag baby potatoes.
So, with the taste of fresh, hot crisps still in my mouth, Lainey, Peter, Denise and I all set off for Kilmessan and The Station House.
Once upon a time, there was a railway that ran through Kilmessan. And just as the name suggests, The Station House was just that.
The railway ran through what is now the car park and the one-time signal box, a standalone building, has been prettily converted into a bridal suite.
That's worth knowing, because there are extensive grounds full of flowers and flowering shrubs, and nestled in them is the old locomotive turntable, where wedding ceremonies are performed.
It's true to say that this place has been well set up for weddings.
Inside, there's a kind of chintzy comfort -- big comfy chairs in the lounge, plenty of dark wood and brass. Not surprisingly, the leitmotif is of railway memorabilia.
There are prints on the walls and lots of artefacts that all make reference to the building's earlier incarnation. Even the door stop at the front door is a cast locomotive.
We had a drink in the bar, where we got a chance to read the menu, which offers great value.
The set dinner is €26.95 for four courses, but the menu is constructed in such a way that, apart from the set-dinner choices, there are plenty of others that come with a supplement.
I thought it worked well; there are enough choices if you want to stick to the set menu, but if you want something else, you only pay a supplement rather than having to go to the à la carte.
The wine list is quite long with a reasonable mark-up.
I was about to drink just a glass and so was Denise. Lainey doesn't drink at all, so we handed the list to Peter to choose what was, in effect, his wine for the night.
He chose a decent Sancerre, which was priced at €43.10, and we had a couple of bottles of mineral water as well.
Without any persuasion from me, we all managed to pick different dishes, some from the set menu and some with a supplement.
For starters, we had a mushroom soup, Station House smokies, roasted king scallops and a confit duck leg.
For mains, we chose a baked monkfish fillet, a belly of pork, a pan-seared fillet of salmon and a breaded fillet of whiting.
Before the meal proper began, we were offered a choice of four different and good breads, all made in the kitchens, and then, as an amuse bouche, we each got a demi-tasse of beef and tomato soup. That's a combination I haven't had before, but it worked and I liked it.
All our starters were very good. Peter especially liked the king scallops and I thought the smokies were simple and very tasty.
None of us chose to have the intermediary course of soup or sorbet. We just went straight to the main courses. The best of these was, without doubt, the monkfish which, like all the dishes we got that night, was generous in size, and it came with sauté shrimp -- a good combination.
I was pleased to see whiting on the menu, it's one of our indigenous fish and often unappreciated, which is a shame as it's a firm-fleshed fish with plenty of flavour.
I often think we place far too much emphasis on salmon, sea bass and cod. The sea abounds with plenty of other fish, all good to eat and good for you.
If we ate these fish more often, there'd be little need for all the farmed fish you find on restaurant menus.
I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but anyone who does would enjoy the dessert selection in The Station House. Every one we had was expertly made and they all looked good as well.
Again, I had a favourite -- it was the Irish coffee cake which, despite a lack of appetite, I finished.
We ended the meal with teas and espressos, which brought the bill to €193.30. More than €60 of this was for drinks so, all in all, a good-value meal.
The Station House
Tel: 046 902 5239