Eating out: Paolo Tullio at Fairways Bar and Orchard Restaurant, Nenagh
'I got a strong sense of real enthusiasm and passion, which I suspect are the mystery ingredients that make some restaurants special.'
It was off to County Limerick this week to meet Gerard Carthy. "Let's meet in Fairways," he said, as though I'd know exactly where that was.
After more questioning, I learnt that Fairways was a gastropub, one of few in County Limerick, and that it was just outside Nenagh. "I think you'll like it," said Gerard, "it's the sort of place that ticks your boxes."
That sounded promising, so we arranged an early dinner, aiming to eat at around 7pm. Arriving outside Fairways, which is just a few kilometres outside Nenagh, it made me think of Monty Python's Frog and Peach, a restaurant so far off the beaten track that no one ever went there. The difference, in this case, was the full car park, because although Fairways may be remote, it seems to have a lot of loyal customers.
A fine old Daimler limousine also sat in the car park. Apparently it's used for weddings and for collecting and taking customers home. I'm sure that this service doesn't stretch as far as Wicklow, so I can't avail of it, but if you lived somewhere around Nenagh, this is worth knowing.
Inside, the décor is the classic brick, brass and bric-a-brac, which certainly makes for a homely and welcoming feel. We got the menu and some good home-made bread and began browsing.
Gerard told me that this was a husband and wife team: she runs the front of house, he's the chef. The menu is a good mix of the sort of dishes you'd expect to find in a roadside pub, as well as dishes that surprise you. For example, there's ravioli made with spinach and wild mushrooms; slow-braised ham hock with garlic, leeks and cinnamon, and a beetroot vegetable lasagne made with coriander, raspberries and an orange and honey-butter reduction.
For the less adventurous, there are steaks - including a sirloin from Piedmontese beef, the lowest cholesterol beef that there is - as well as roast duck and a gourmet burger. If it's just a snack you want, there's a choice of various fajitas made with either chicken or beef.
I found myself nodding and enthusing as I went down the wine list. It's not a particularly long list, maybe 40 wines, but the pricing is good (a Chablis for €30.50) and any list that offers organic wines, manzanilla sherry, as well as port and dessert wines, gets my vote. Neither Gerard nor I were drinking that night, so we made do with sparkling water.
For starters, Gerard chose the crab, lemon and potato fritters, which arrived nicely presented on a large white bowl with garnishing of coconut, lemongrass and Thai spices. Certainly a tasty dish, but I preferred mine - Tournafulla (west Limerick) black pudding, which came with a soft poached egg, bacon flakes and a gooseberry sorbet. I've never had black pudding paired with gooseberry, but I have to say it was a fine pairing, the crisp acidity of the gooseberry making a fine counterpoint to the black pudding.
One page of the menu is devoted to fish, and it so happened that both Gerard and I ended up choosing from this page. The lemon sole for Gerard and the hake for me.
This time our main courses arrived on large rectangular plates and both of them were very well presented, almost works of art. Both fish were served rolled into tians and had a white wine and cream sauce accompanying them.
A selection of crisp vegetables came with it and the whole was topped with fennel fronds. Not only were they both well presented like the starters, but the fish were both cooked just right. With food as good as this, we just had to investigate the desserts, so we ordered a raspberry cheesecake for Gerard and a sticky toffee pudding for me.
Like everything else that had arrived from the kitchen, both of these desserts came to us looking really good; both of them served on a white, rectangular plate and both with lots of extras - for example we both had a shortbread 'F' on our plates, we guessed for Fairways.
My plate was also decorated with a piped message written in chocolate that said, "Here's to good friends, good wine and good company", which is as good a toast as you're likely to hear anywhere.
A couple of good coffees finished the meal that had been exactly as Gerard had said. The food was locally sourced, in season, plated beautifully and well cooked. That's pretty much what you want from any good restaurant, but finding it in a gastropub is a pleasant surprise.
Having eaten well, I wasn't surprised that Fairways was so busy. A husband and wife team, especially if they're both committed to the cause, make a formidable unit. I got a strong sense of real enthusiasm and passion, which I suspect are the mystery ingredients that make some restaurants special.
Sadly, we didn't get a ride home in the plush Daimler, so we set off home having got a bill for €81 - real value for the quality of the cooking.
Value for money 9/10
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
The second National Organic Food Fair will take place on Sunday, September 14, in Marlay Park. The event is open to all and entry is free!
The National Organic Food Fair is a collaboration between the Organic Trust and the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, and is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The fair will have lots on offer with face painters, balloon makers and a pet farm to name just a few attractions.
This festival will also have lots of outdoor stalls and marquees showcasing Irish organic products and tempting foods.