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Review: Montmartre, Sligo

Himself was attending a medical conference in the Clarion Hotel, so while he was making me proud showing off his fine scientific mind, I swam aimlessly around the hotel pool. The Clarion occupies an old grey building that used to be a psychiatric hospital, though I couldn't help think I'd have preferred the original decor.

Anyway, I was genuinely excited about Montmartre, a French restaurant in Sligo town. It even sounds kind of edgy, doesn't it? Like a Jewish bakery in downtown Riyadh. Or a Starbucks in suburban Tehran. No doubt the good people of Sligo can dip asparagus sticks in garlic butter as good as the rest of them, but I was sure Montmartre would be romantic: candelight, rickety tables and lots of atmosphere.

There's also something to be said for stumbling on a place through word-of-mouth or reading about it in a guidebook. It makes you think that you've discovered it yourself through a series of Herge's Adventures Of Tin Tin investigations. I remember tracking down a bar in East Berlin once that was reportedly full of Communist era furniture (I assumed that meant without cushions.) When I found it, the whole building was gone.

Our booking at Montmartre was for 9.30pm, but we called to say we were running about 20 minutes late as we were watching a rugby match. "Can you bring me ze score?" the French waiter asked over the phone. How cute! Bad grammar on a Frenchman is far sexier than an Irishman. "Does this be your first time here?" the taxi driver asked. "It does do be," I replied as Himself gave me a sharp, well-deserved elbow.

Strangely, the locals we met didn't know the restaurant existed. Not the receptionist in The Clarion or the taxi driver. It was down a backstreet, but even I'd heard about it and I live the other side of the country. It wasn't as I'd pictured it. It had bright lights and the tables were, well, veneer. As the lights blinded me on arrival, I told Himself that this little restaurant could be called Le Maison de Veneer.

Though we arrived late, our table still wasn't ready. The waiter kindly offered us two pricey Kir Royales at the bar. It was nearly half an hour before we got so much as a piece of bread. But our waiter did recommend a mid-priced Sancerre AC Hubert Brochard 2003. He couldn't tell us much about it. At our request, the waitress arrived with a large bottle of water and plonked it on the table. We had to unscrew and pour it.

For starters, Himself had "superb" iced Lissadell oysters. They were plucked fresh from the sea, which you could taste, and, if you held them up to your ear, you could hear the sea. (Okay, I made that bit up.) I had seared scallops with courgette and spinach tapenade. As scallops have such a delicate flavour, it was a difficult dish to pull off, but they went beautifully with the tapenade, which was just rich enough.

Between courses, we hit the wine. It had a rich, buttery taste with a nice length. But we had taken to the sauce because this place was like a sauna. The glass was heavy with condensation. Stuffy restaurants make me nauseous, especially after half-a-bottle of wine and three courses. I asked the waiter to open a window ... or three. "I vill turn on ze air conditioning," he replied. What? They had air conditioning? That was news to me.

Our main courses were worth the suffering. I had the mallard duck with vegetable confit, red cabbage and mulled wine jus, which was as juicy as could be. Nobody does gratin dauphinois like Himself, but Montmartre gave it a good try. Himself had guinea fowl with tarragon, jus green cabbages and mash, which was oven blackened to give an extra kick. It was moist, he munched, without being too gamey. And, no, it's not just like chicken.

The best was yet to come: a selection of sorbets and ice cream, including brown bread ice cream, for which we went into super-scoop mode. It was too much for one. We weighed through it like the culinary adventurers we were. As we did, the other guests -- a large group of middle-aged friends who faffed loudly over the wine and several couples -- gradually left the building.

We flagged a cab back to the Clarion. At 1am, the foyer was overrun with an eight-year-old child pushing a baby in a pram, followed by a two-year-old. These overtired, demented children had taken over the asylum. We were happy to turn in. We'd always have, if not Paris, Le Maison de Veneer of Sligo town. n

Aingeala Flannery is on leave

Video of the Day

RECOMMENDED: A fan to keep cool
THE DAMAGE: e128.46 for two starters, two main courses, one desert and e32.85 for a bottle of Sancerre
ON THE STEREO: Easy listening
AT THE TABLE: Couples in love
DO SAY: Perrier! Perrier!
DON'T SAY: This wine is a cheeky little number!

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