A simple pleasure
It's almost become a tradition now. Every year, there's a restaurant somewhere in the midlands that gets a visit from not one, but two restaurant reviewers at the same time. It's what happens when we're staying in Glasson, filming The Restaurant.
Tom Doorley and I stay in the Glasson Golf Hotel, which is just across the bay from the Wineport Lodge, where we film. We can look across the beautifully manicured golf course which sweeps impressively down to Lough Ree and see the Wineport in the distance, where a celebrity will be cheffing for the day. It's a security measure, you understand, keeping us away: the producers of the show are fanatic about ensuring that neither Tom nor I will know who the celebrity chef is when we sit down to eat. I may surprise them one day and arrive at the Glasson Golf Hotel with a high-powered telescope, which will let me look across the bay and cheat.
There's always one day when we'll have an afternoon free, so that's the day we set off together for a review. This year it was my turn to drive, so we headed north-east to the town of Multyfarnham. Apart from the fact that I liked the name, Tom had heard that there was a pub there doing good food.
The sat-nav found an interesting short-cut for us, taking us through Ballymahon then cross-country through places I've never heard of on tiny boreens directly to Multyfarnham, which Tom assured me is known locally as 'Multy.'
"It's the home of Wilson's Hospital," he told me, "a school for the children of Church of Ireland gentry." And for the sake of balance in these things, I can tell you it's also home to one of the oldest continually inhabited friaries, a Franciscan Friary dating from the late 14th century. Apart from these institutions, Multy is composed of a main street and a bridge, as well as Weirs, which is where we were going for lunch.
Weirs is one of those places that makes you feel instantly comfortable. There's a small bar in dark, shiny wood and an open fireplace ablaze. Beyond that is a big, high-ceilinged room -- the dining room -- with another big fire blazing. You can tell at once that this is fishing country; there are rods and reels displayed on the walls and above our table was a perfectly enormous stuffed pike in a glass case. Simple wooden tables and chairs give the room a homely and welcoming feel.
Turns out we were lucky to have gone on a Wednesday, since lunch in Weirs is available from Wednesday to Saturday. Had we arrived the previous day we wouldn't have eaten. We got the day-time menu, which runs from 12.30 to 6pm. There's enough on it to give you a good choice: for snacks there are plenty of sandwiches, wraps and panini, but if you're looking for more than a snack then there are starters, main courses and desserts.
Tom got stuck into the wine list and approved. "It's a Wines Direct list and there's some good wines here. Let's get a bottle and what we don't drink we'll take away as a doggy bottle." So we ordered the excellent Château Rian Sauvignon Blanc, a wine I've often recommended in the past. Don't expect to find a long list though: it only lists five whites and five reds, but all with very fair mark-ups. Our Château Rian was €19.
Tom started with deep-fried Brie and I ordered the prawn cocktail. Neither of these are complicated dishes, but they're as easy to do badly as they are to do well. We got them done well: Tom's Brie in a crisp crumb casing, which allowed the gooey Brie to ooze out temptingly, while my prawn cocktail was prettily presented in an angled glass and the little prawns were coated as they should be with all-time classic, Marie-Rose sauce. Some good bread was on the table and we began to believe we'd stumbled upon very good pub food.
For our main courses, Tom chose the Aberdeen Angus 8oz sirloin steak, announcing that he very occasionally orders steak, while I chose the fish and chips, described on the menu as 'tempura of cod' and chips. Once again, these are not the sort of dishes that need Michelin skill-sets to cook, but, just as with the starters, they are dishes that often go wrong.
These ones didn't. The steak (I stole a taste of it from Tom's plate) was really good. It had been hung for long enough, it was tender and cooked exactly à point, and the homemade chips were excellent; crisp on the outside, golden in colour and soft and fluffy on the inside. I had a very large cod fillet on my plate, encased in a delicate tempura batter that, like the chips, was pleasingly crisp on the outside, leaving the fish perfectly cooked on the inside.
We were pretty much full at this point, because the portions in Weirs are quite large. I was thinking about an espresso, then we were told that there was homemade apple crumble on the menu. "Think of it as work," said Tom, as we ordered one to share. Again, this wasn't a complicated dessert, but it was done well. And that's what pleases about a kitchen such as the one in Weirs -- it's not serving rare and exquisite dainties, it's serving the sort of food that most of us eat on a daily basis, but it's doing it very well.
I'm old enough to remember when country pubs offered peanuts or sandwiches toasted in a plastic bag as their entire food repertoire. Weirs is what philosophers call a 'confirming instance', a confirmation in this case that, just as we suspected, Ireland has come a very long way in the past 30 years when it comes to gastronomy.
If we've arrived at a point where wholesome, well-made food can be found in pubs in small villages and towns around the country, then we have a reason to celebrate.
We finished with a couple of not too good espressos and our bill came to €84.50, which included two big bottles of mineral water.
Weirs, Main Street, Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath. Tel: 044 937 1111
Read Paolo at www.tasteofireland.ie