Review: Country prices, country portions and a talented chef
Put it on your ‘destination restaurant’ list and eat top food in a beautiful room
St George's Terrace
- Townparks, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim
- € € € €
Where is everyone? Empty rooms are not my norm. Nights out often involve squeezing past the in-crowd to get a seat in the latest must-try new place. But we’re sitting in a lovely place eating a beautifully-crafted menu for little more than the cost of a main course back in the big smoke. And it’s emptier than a Theresa May soundbite. It’s still early on a Thursday evening. Maybe everyone’s sipping sundowners on deck before they get here.
We’re not in Cannes. We’re in Carrick-on-Shannon in St George’s Terrace Restaurant. The restaurant is in a handsome Victorian redbrick bank building which was an NIB branch in its last incarnation. Four large sash windows pour light into the high-ceilinged room with its denim blue painted walls and grey paint work.
There are abstracts on the walls and a huge upturned punch bowl of a chandelier overhead. Tables are swathed in Daz-white embossed linen and the grey chairs are a mix of leather and tweed.
“This is too classy a restaurant. They’ll kick you out,” one boy says to his brother when a misdemeanour threatens.
He’s right. This is a classy place. In the best possible sense. Relaxed and welcoming to children but classy enough to put dry aged beef with house bolognese sauce on the kids’ menu for well under a tenner served with “fresh egg spaghetti”. Truly precocious offspring who mainline Masterchef episodes can order a child’s portion starter from the a la carte for €4.95.
St George’s Terrace is a homecoming for chef Dave Fitzgibbon. A culinary arts graduate, he put in his time in “Michelin Star kitchens around the world”, according to the restaurant’s website, before returning home to open his own place with business partner Siobhan Smyth.
The fun starts with posh egg and soldiers, a set of five egg shells served each on its own tiny delicate stand. They’re filled with a goats cheese custard that’s spoon-lickingly good and topped with a tiny parmesan-crusted pastry soldier. There are enamel-lidded containers of bread, table tennis ball portions of onion bread and a teeny brown soda loaf sprinkled with oats.
My smoked eel arrives under a tall glass cloche containing swirling smoke. Smoke guns might have been mothballed by trendier kitchens (“so 2006”) but who cares?
The pungent smoke clears to reveal a beautiful arrangement of food. Stiff curls of celery have been sliced so they look like grosgrain ribbon. They snake around flat-bottomed melon balls, some apple and celery sorbet and that eel, warm white and luscious underneath.
Liam has an earthy version of a stew in layers, a potato and beef terrine. Iberico ham and a truffle foam gussy it up a notch from grandma’s kitchen.
We definitely feel almost west of the Shannon when the mains arrive, in true belt-straining country portions with an extra pot of buttery spuds mashed with scallions to fill any gaps.
My hake fillet sits on top of a great big dollop of crab risotto with broadbeans. There are gobstopper-sized potatoes which turn out to be cooked cucumber balls, which is a bit disconcerting in the eyes telling you one thing, tastebuds telling you another kind of clash.
The better main is a huge portion of Thornhill duck, two wedges of breast meat so profoundly flavoured that it’s almost liverish. It comes in a sweet gravy with black spears of salsify, and more duck parcelled in house tortellini.
Having sat still long enough the boys are released to go foraging for an ice cream shop. They should have stayed put because they missed out on the lovely flourish of some doll-size soft-scoop 99 ice cream cones on their own stand. There’s a scroll of dark chocolate instead of a Flake.
A rich caramel mousse cloaked in a thin skin of dark chocolate is all we can manage for dessert. There are blobs of jammy morello cherry and fried brioche cubes like dessert croutons around it. A swirl of “glass” hardened caramel is more Waven pipe than crystal in texture but good nonetheless. Then a plate of four beautiful house chocolates with a bag of four to take home for the younger diners.
So that’s why I’m mystified by the empty chairs. In holiday season you can spend this kind of money in touristy Ireland on reheated mediocrity. This is proper ambitious cooking with great ingredients.
Carrick-on-Shannon is coming down with stags and hens at weekends, it is said. But St George’s Terrace should be tighter than a squeeze through a canal lock on a cruiser. Country prices teamed with country portions in the hands of a talented chef all served with aplomb in a beautiful room.
Put it on your “destination restaurant” list. Put on your good clobber with or without the sash and go. And if you’re a cruiser, step onto dry land and head for the terrace.
St George’s Terrace, Townparks, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim (071) 961 6546
Dinner for five with a glass of wine, shared dessert, mineral water and two coffees came to €120.05
Verdict: 8/10 Ambitious cooking in a beautiful country town building
Food provenance: Extensive. Drumshambo butchers Scollans provide the meat, vegetables from Knockvicar organic farm and Kevin Prior.
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Limited