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Restaurant reviews: Lunching with Leinster’s Kevin McLaughlin


Pre-season is a challenging time for us rugby players. Aside from obvious physical challenges such as sprinting up Killiney Hill and spending hours in the gym, there are mental challenges too.

Pre-season is the time when most rugby players vow to make more personal sacrifices to make sure they gain that extra one or two per cent that will give them the edge over an opponent. Pre-season is the rugby player's equivalent of Lent.

My Lenten vow this year was to aim for dietary perfection, not an uncommon one in the camp, where poor diets have invariably crept in over the holiday period.

With one week of training under my (loosened!) belt, I was keen not to undo my hard week's training with weekend pleasantries.

With this in mind, I set off for Wicklow and Romany Stone, a café that -- I was assured by a like-minded Wicklow native -- would allow me to enjoy a pleasant lunch, without breaking my 'Lenten' vows.

The first thing that struck me about RS as we waited 20 minutes to have our table cleaned and a further 15 minutes to get a glass of water was that it was understaffed. Our very friendly waitress explained that business had "really taken off" in recent times and, admittedly, the place was very busy. You would hope they are just going through a readjustment process.

We decided the best way to get a feel for their food was to order a soup, a salad and a wrap, the staple of their lunch menu.

The courgette-and-almond soup was a massive hit. So much so that there were several spoon clashes as I and my better fished enthusiastically for the big juicy lumps of courgette and crispy slices of almond. The soup came with a freshly baked 'mini-loaf' of seedy brown bread.

The cajun chicken wrap was disappointing. The red onion, Emmental cheese and grilled peppers sounded like a good combination, but the the cajun sauce was too sweet and tasted awfully like sweet chilli sauce. It also needed some rocket or cucumber to break through the stodginess.

The chicken avocado salad came with large chunks of nice fresh avocado, well-seasoned chicken and a good assortment of leaves. I am certainly no salad expert, but I felt the dressing let this particular plate of leaves down -- it was too sweet and had no bite. It needed a kick from somewhere: more seasoning, a squeeze of lemon, some balsamic, something!

If you can get over the faint noise of traffic, the outside seating in RS is very pleasant on a nice day. The rustic decor indoors, with some leather couches and big wooden slab tables, is also pretty cool. They are making a real attempt to use fresh, good-quality produce and some of the resulting food is great.

Maybe after 'Lent', I will visit on a weekend evening to sample the summer barbecue offering. The butterflied leg of lamb was calling to me, but, for the time being, it's soups, salads and wraps .

Romany Stone, Kilbride, Co Wicklow. Tel: 0404 48700

Soup of the day €5.30

Cajun chicken wrap €6.70

Chicken and avocado salad €11.50

Americano €2.80

Total €26.30 (excluding tip)

Value for money 5/10

Lunch special (any two tapas and

coffee/tea/ mineral) €9.50 x 2

This Wednesday lunchtime, I went in search of tapas to bring back great memories of childhood holidays to Spain. I ended up in La Bodega in Ranelagh village.

We ordered seven dishes in total. With my passion for tapas and my dining companion's Spanish heritage (he is half Spanish), we knew what we were looking for.

The pick of the bunch was the chorizo al vino. Good-quality Spanish chorizo was fried up with lashings of Rioja and chunks of onion. The croquetas de bacon (béchamel and bacon-filled croquettes) were exactly how we expected them, and the béchamel filling was undoubtedly "Spanishy", according to my Iberian buddy.

Mejillones al vino, or mussels cooked in white wine and garlic, were juicy and full of flavour, and calamares were a real treat. The squid was fresh and the batter light and crispy. The prawns in the gambas al ajillo (pan-fried prawns with garlic) were big and juicy, but the accompanying oil was not as rich as one would expect from good-quality extra-virgin olive oil.

We were disappointed with two of the dishes: the tortilla (Spanish omelette), where the egg to potato ratio was wrong and the resulting omelette was far too dry, and our patatas bravas (potato chunks fried in oil), which were soaked in tomato sauce and aioli (garlic sauce) and very soggy by the time we turned our attention to them.

Dessert was arroz con leche (Spanish rice pudding) and a chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. The rice pudding was good enough to persuade me to eat every bite, despite being about to burst. The fondant took us off the Spanish track.

The co-owner informed us that the chef is Spanish and this comes across in some of the dishes. We were informed that they plan to open a heated terrace, which will be a nice Irish version of dining al fresco.

La Bodega Tapas y Vinos, 93 Ranelagh Village, Ranelagh, Dublin. Tel:01 497 5577

Croquetas de bacon €5.50

Chorizo al vino €5.50

Patatas bravas €4

Arroz con leche €5.50 x 2

Mineral water €3

Total €48

Value for money 7/10

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