The Ballymore Inn: 'The plumb and apple crumble may possibly be the best I've ever eaten'
The Ballymore Inn, Ballymore Eustace, Co. Kildare. (045) 864585
Those who know me may be surprised to hear this, but my first thought on entering the Ballymore Inn, and being directed to a table tucked away to the left of the front door, is one of concern. It is the Sunday of the All-Ireland hurling final (how am I even aware of this?), two o'clock in the afternoon, and kick-off (throw in?) is surely imminent. And yet, sitting next to us, calm as you like, studying the menu, is a tanned Marty Morrissey. He hasn't even ordered yet! Surely he should be somewhere else?
A text is deployed from across the table. "Did you see who's sitting next to us?" I confirm that I have.
Once we have made our food decisions, I share my anxiety. "Is there not," I say, feigning nonchalance, "a match on?"
You know where this is going. It isn't Marty, nor his doppelgänger, Ken Dodd, he of the famous tickling stick. In fact it is developer, Sean Mulryan, a native of these parts - his company is called Ballymore, after all - who has every right to be enjoying his Sunday lunch in peace without having to be stressing about getting to Croke Park on time.
Anyway, Sean Mulryan appears to be just one of many locals for whom The Ballymore Inn on a Sunday lunchtime is a second home and, after my first visit, it's easy to see why.
First things first, the staff are smiley and helpful, and nothing seems to be too much trouble. The room is buzzing, and there's a happy mix of multi-generational groups, young families and well-dressed pensioners. It's clear that this is where well-got Kildare comes to hang out of a weekend.
Bread comes with a ramekin of salty toasted fennel and herb dip that's so green and flavoursome that we're asking for a second within five minutes.
My daughter, Ellie, has a problem with calamari - the problem being that if it's on the menu, she's incapable of ordering anything else. At Ballymore, the crisp squid with tomato and chilli oil comes in a light, tempura-style batter, with a punchy sauce - it is impeccably executed and reminds us of the version that Johnny Cooke used to serve in Cooke's Café all those years ago. A sharing plate of charcuterie features good salami and chorizo, serrano ham, Gubbeen cheese, crunchy cornichons, and thin slivers of a homemade duck and pistachio terrine scented with orange that is more decorous and less gutsy than we would have liked.
Char-grilled West Cork dry-aged roast beef sits atop a mound of finely-grated stir-fried cabbage that's vibrant and full of crunch, and there's a good kick from fresh horseradish and an intense mushroom jus. The meat is cooked rather more than the medium-rare requested, and is less flavoursome than its effusive billing led us to expect. Homemade pizzas, on the other hand, are terrific - thin and rectangular, with fine, generous toppings. One features Clonakilty black pudding, crisp bacon, mushrooms and garlic, another is coming down with copious quantities of Ballyhoura wild mushrooms, Parmesan, smoked mozzarella and baby spinach. The pizzas aren't a cheap sop for children - they are more sophisticated than that - and neither are they priced as such. Nor should they be - quality ingredients such as those that Georgina O'Sullivan uses at Ballymore don't come cheap. We end up bringing half of each one home and there's enough for lunch the next day.
We share a single portion of a luscious and old-fashioned plum and apple crumble that may possibly be the best, butteriest crumble that I've ever eaten. The fruit is not over-sweet and it's served with just the right amount of cream and vanilla ice-cream that we guess to be homemade.
The Sunday lunch offer is priced at €24.95 for two courses and €29.95 for three. We order partly from this and partly from the à la carte menu and, with a couple of glasses of chianti and soft drinks, the bill for three comes to €106.20 before service.
Boring but possibly helpful travel advisory: if you are heading for Ballymoreustace from Dublin, beware of the route that Google maps might send you. We were directed through a housing estate in Drimnagh rather than along the canal, and then cross-country on one winding road after another over from the N7. We would have had a more straightforward journey via Tallaght and Blessington on the N81.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course Sunday lunch is €24.50, but you could just have a margherita pizza for €11.95 — one would be ample for two children.
ON A BLOW OUT
If you went for the à la carte dinner, and had prawn tempura with mango salsa and spicy tomato aioli,
char-grilled West Cork sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and dessert, you’d be looking at a bill of around €50 per head before wine or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Simple, unpretentious food with integrity that confirms the reputation of The Ballymore Inn as a Kildare gem.
THE LOW POINT
Bad bloody directions.
8/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
The first half of the year saw such a flurry of new restaurants, most of them in the vicinity of Camden Street in Dublin city centre, that it was hard to keep up. There was a lull over the summer, but now there’s a whole slew of autumn openings. The popular La Plancha has moved from Blackrock to a new home on Monkstown Crescent, Paul Behan’s Brickyard gastro-pub is soon to open its doors beside the Balally Luas stop in Dundrum, and chef Benjamin Patterson (above) promises great things at Benjamin’s at the Meeting of the Waters in Avoca.