Restaurant review: Eastern promise
My friend Anthony Fitzgerald probably gets to see more restaurants than I do, since his business involves kitchen supplies. Because of this, he's been a great source of information to me over the years. Sometimes he'll call by my house and say something like: "Have you tried that new restaurant in Ennistymon?" To which my answer will invariably be: "No, not yet."
On his latest visit to me, the question was: "Have you been to the Sri Lankan restaurant in Tinahely?" I didn't know they had a Sri Lankan restaurant in Tinahely, so my answer was exactly as it always is: "No, not yet." And then a thought occurred to me -- why don't we go together?
And that's how it almost was, except that on the night we went, Anthony came to my house just as my son Rocco and his fiancee Ruby arrived. It didn't seem right for Anthony and I to go and leave them behind, so we went as a foursome.
I have memories of Tinahely, mainly because many years ago I used to take part in a pheasant shoot in Coolatin, and we'd have the shoot lunch in Tinahely. I haven't shot pheasant for years, but driving the back road from Laragh to Greenane, into Aughrim and on to Tinahely made me nostalgic.
Tinahely is one of those country towns that seems to have a bit of design about it. Instead of being a ribbon development, the centre is triangular, I'm tempted to say "like Sienna", and there's a handsome old courthouse right in the middle. Come to think of it, Sienna's central triangle -- where they run the palio -- is on a slope, and so is Tinahely's.
Anyway, just as we turned right at the top of the triangle, there was Dylan. I turned to Anthony. "Is that Dylan as in Thomas, erstwhile poet of Ceylon," I asked, "or is that Dylan as in Zimmerman, that well-known Sinhalese songster?"
"Ha, ha, ha," said Anthony. "It's Dylan because that's the owner's name."
Inside it all looked rather fun, as we'd arrived the night before All Hallow's Eve. Evilly grinning pumpkins, ghouls and witches decorated the interior, and we took a table about half-way down the dining room. Our waitress brought us menus, and after a bit we began to wonder if she had forgotten to give us a drinks menu, so we asked for one.
"For the moment we don't have a wine licence, so it's bring-your-own. You can get wine in Centra across the road," she said.
Rocco was dispatched with €20 to see what he could get, and he returned after a few moments with a German beer for me and a bottle of Campo Viejo for the others. We ordered sparkling water, but had to make do with four small bottles of it at €2.50 each, so once again I found myself paying €10 a litre for water. This possibly ranks as one of the most annoying things in a restaurant after sugar lumps with espressos. Water really ought to be available in litre bottles. With the drinks sorted, we turned our attention to the menu.
I had vaguely expected to find a completely Asian menu, but when I read through a menu of both European and occasional Asian dishes I realised that of course that was how it had to be in rural Wicklow. For Dylan to survive, it clearly needs to appeal to the biggest audience. So that's how our meal turned out, mostly European and partly Asian.
We began with two vegetable soups, a seafood chowder and a portion of spring rolls. I really liked the presentation: the soup bowls were served on long, rectangular plates which also held the fresh accompanying bread, and the spring rolls looked like a picture, the plate decorated with carefully placed leaves, artful drizzles and a small pile of spring rolls.
What struck me forcefully with the starters was that they were far more skillful than I was expecting, and far more skillful than you'd expect for the price -- the most expensive of them was under €8. It was much the same story with the main courses. We'd split evenly between Asian and European for these -- a chicken curry, a Sri Lankan prawn curry, a roast chicken and a fillet steak.
As we tucked into these dishes we began to wonder if perhaps Dylan could make more of its Asian roots. Both of the curry dishes were very good -- delicately balanced flavours showed the hand of a good chef. Yet you could easily assume that the Asian dishes on the menu would be like they are in so many Irish restaurants, Asian in name rather than in execution.
Only because Anthony had told me that the chef/proprietor was Sinhalese did I know -- you'd never have guessed from the menu or the decor.
Normally I'd have little to say about a dish of roast chicken or a pan-fried fillet steak, but I will say this: the roast chicken was exceptionally well cooked; and when did you last see a fillet steak on a menu for €21.95?
By the time we'd finished, we were pretty replete, but we did manage an apple tart and ice-cream between us.
I was the only one who wanted an espresso, and that brought our bill to €115.45 without a service charge.
I thought that was remarkable value for what we'd eaten.