Review: Source Sligo has found clever ways of putting goodness into crowd-pleaser dishes
Seaweed has a high shudder rating. We barely want to swim near it much less put forkfuls in our mouths. Yet we regularly eat it as an e-number in lots of foods. Unromantic E407, a thickening agent in yoghurts, ice creams and pastries, is a gel made from carrageen. Seaweed has the potential to clean our seas, fertilise our soil, and add a foghorn blast of umami to a beef stew, like Nigella’s tin of anchovies, only cheaper.
Spend any time with seaweed evangelists such as Dr Prannie Rhatigan and Waterford’s Marie Power and you will be persuaded of the ease with which you can sprinkle a little into your diet. Yet only the high-end restaurants (where it’s now called sea vegetables) put it anywhere near their menus. The very last place you might expect to find it is in the dreaded underworld marked “Kids’ Menu”. After one plate of dross too many, this summer children’s food is now firmly pegged as the bottom-of-the-barrel where salt and fat are larded onto stodge to make it taste of something other than despair.
But what’s this flecked through the oat coating on my six-year-old’s fish fingers, or goujons as they’re called here? The curranty black bits are dilisk and as kids’ menu ingredients go it’s a little bit of a miracle. We’re in Source Sligo in Sligo town for a rainy-day lunch and what’s arrived on the plates is a lesson in how to put goodness into the crowd-pleasers.
Source Sligo is an ambitious project. It’s a restaurant, wine bar, cookery school and deli. It’s modern and vast – two things you don’t typically get in cafes in Irish towns. You walk from the narrow traffic-choked streets into an airy double-height barn of a place with handsome floorboards and a mix of kitchen tables and school chairs. Photographs of farmers and fishermen under huge Sligo skies hang around the walls. The decor is clever. Huge baskets have been wrapped with twine to make lampshades. It’s pleasantly noisy.
The golden fried oat panko-style crumb with dilisk has been put on the children’s fish fingers, a portion of crab cakes and my cod goujons and it works on all three. Mullaghmore crab is moulded into cakes and served with “Sligo salad leaves” and summer vegetables, which include aubergine, strips of celery, shreds of samphire, peppers and spring onions. There’s a dill mayo that provides a creamy hit of artery-clotting decadence to all this lightness. My cod needs some mayo to counter its slight dryness. So there’s some sharing required. And there’s a separate bowl of crisp thumb-sized chips. A bowl of penne pasta comes with a light tomato sauce that doesn’t have that tell-tale pasteurised tang that says “I’ve been tipped from a jar”. (A culinary low point elsewhere was a day-glo yellow “hollandaise sauce” that tasted like it was reconstituted from powdered margarine and sock elastic. Now there’s a shudder.)
Source does sausage and chips for the third child, but they’re homemade chips and better-than-average sausages. The service slows as the place fills up but we’re not in a mad rush.
Desserts are from a gorgeous array on a table and I go for a chunk of chocolate biscuit cake with a nutty coffee alongside. There are raisins in the biscuit cake, which I like, but biscuit cake purists may frown on them as unnecessary bursts of fruitiness.
Upstairs in the wine bar a baby grand piano sits waiting for the regular musical evenings.
The food in Source Sligo is great. And they’re doing it at the same price as the freezer-to-fryer-to-fork merchants who offer dumbed-down eating to hungry people. In that they are a source of inspiration.
Lunch for five with one dessert and coffee came to €40.50
THE VERDICT: 8/10 Big place with big ideas Source Sligo, 1-2 John Street, Sligo tel: 071-914 7605
Wheelchair access: Yes
Food provenance: Excellent Fivemiletown cheese, Mullaghmore crab and Sligo meat and vegetables.
Vegetarian options: One starter and one light bite but no mains for lunch