Harry’s Bar & Restaurant: top of its game
This hardworking Donegal outpost shows how to cook with great Irish ingredients
This might be a swim that ends up a wet walk. It’s low tide at Lisfannon Beach in Donegal and I’m still knee deep in Lough Swilly even though I’ve waded out so far I’m closer to a boat than I am to the shore. Thick grey clouds are spitting rain. But by the time I hit swimming depth the air is so cold the water feels warm. So it turns into one of the nicest dips of the year.
An hour and a hot bath later I’m sitting in a steakhouse by a road. That’s what Harry’s in Bridgend looks like. Google Maps calls it Bridge End, like it’s a village in a Harry Potter book but sadly it has all the quaintness of an industrial estate, with a road running through it.
“You should see it,” a friend had said, awestruck that a restaurant like it sits where it sits and looks like it does. “It’s just there on the side of a busy road.”
Harry’s has been here for 23 years and is run by Donal Doherty, son of the original Harry. Fellow Donegal man Derek Creagh is head chef. His CV includes Heston’s Fat Duck and Michael Deane’s in Belfast when he had a Michelin star.
They’re men with a mission. Vegetables and fruit are grown in their own gardens and most of the rest of the ingredients come from the waters and fields around. Harry’s is putting the Inishowen peninsula on a plate.
My Dublin head has to take a second look at the offer of €60 for three courses and a bottle of wine. That’s not per person folks. It’s for two. My friends, who are letting me gatecrash their date night, have started with a glass of wine and a Rustbucket, the local Kinnegar ale. I get the Scraggy Bay, their India Pale Ale, and settle in on the dark upholstered banquette for a true feast.
There’s a luscious slice of pork terrine, not the kind that can feel like chewing your own finger, but a moussier take on the pig with a barely there sweet wholegrain mustard glaze.
Three small mounds of celeriac remoulade sit on the plate with tiny capers speckled through it and each mound topped with sweet brown pickled apple. The last touch is toasts so filigree-delicate they’re like wheaten doilies.
Martin’s Mountcharles mussels are the best I’ve tasted this year and there’s a broth of briny Kinnegar ale and barley in the bottom of the pot. Juliana gets the walled garden harvest, a bowl of the freshest leaves, on top of a goat’s cheese panna cotta. There are slivers of candy pink and white beet and “duck ham” slices of tasty cured duck .
Each of these starters costs €6. With cooking this brilliant you cancel out the costs of the trip.
We go all fish for mains, two portions of the sole, so fresh it’s almost flapping. There’s a touch of the pin cushion about the first mouthful but the bones are forgotten when the flavour ping pong starts between the tangy cured cucumber and curled brown shrimp together on top.
The hake has a chorizo and squash stew with couscous. There are green beans and a sweet scallion tangle asking to be forked into the buttery mash.
Desserts carry the standard through. A bay leaf crème brûlée is exquisite, the chocolate pot with salted caramel ice cream has a cheeky topping of toffee-ed Rice Krispies. The star is Eton mess. It’s a tumble of clotted cream and meringue rubble drizzled with a blackcurrant and elderflower coulis: liquid Inishowen summer distilled by talented hands.
Harry’s is a lesson in what can be done when a restaurateur swims against the tide of white-van suppliers and frozen or long-haul ingredients. Loved every bite. Dinner for three with two beers and a glass of wine came to €96.
Harry’s Bar and Restaurant, Bridgend, Inishowen, Donegal, tel: 074-936-8544
Music: good old school pop tunes
Food provenance: Excellent. Greencastle fleet for the fish, their own gardens for much else
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Good
Verdict: 8.5/10. Loved every bite