The Windmill: A step back in time

Apart from questionable chicken nuggets, the Windmill serves a great retro post-beach nosh-up

Mon, Sep 2, 2013, 15:27

We will remember it as the time when Met Éireann forecasters dusted off the “h” word. H for hot: hotter than a pepper sprout, as Johnny Cash and June Carter once sang. It’s still a few weeks before we get to pack the car and head west. So we decide on a day trip.

Skerries seems like the perfect spot. The journey out feels as long as a drive to Galway thanks to nose-to-tail city traffic and a diversion through Rush, which is renamed Crawl. All those flat lush fields we pass, purple-green cabbages, acres of greenhouses are a reminder that north county Dublin is the food basket of the city. 

Skerries has a Famous Five feel to it. Its beach is gorgeous, breezy and wonderfully underpopulated, probably because the tide has taken the waves to a distant point on the horizon and the breeze has turned the heat down a notch. “You’d be better off staying in the back garden for a real bit of heat,” one woman tells her friend. The sea holds memories of our icy spring. All of which leaves us epically hungry and, in the absence of lashings of ginger beer and hot buttered toast, we head to the Windmill restaurant after a meander through this lovely village. 

The old-schoolness of the Windmill has been turned into a selling point in its cool dark interior. It’s located down a side street beside a modern bar. Cast iron light fittings and candle holders abound in a kind of medieval feasting hall meets steakhouse style. The menu is divided into “modern” dishes and the “Old Windmill Classics” like prawn cocktail and chicken Maryland, with deep fried banana and pineapple ring. 

The first thing to strike us is the friendliness of the young, mainly female, staff. They talk directly to the children in a way that suggests plenty of experience of dealing with families. There’s a real welcome here. 

Freshly baked bread topped with pumpkin seeds calms the first hunger grumbles. It’s served with softened butter or a dip of olive oil, balsamic and two rounds of green and red chilli slices in the oil.

My new-school starter is a smoked salmon with pickled fennel and orange segments. It’s tall food in the 1990s style with a squeeze of balsamic dressing round the outside, which prompts a “why is there chocolate sauce around your starter?” question. The pickling has punched the aniseed kick out of the fennel but it’s nice nonetheless and the whole thing has a simple fresh feel.

Liam’s prawn cocktail is as old-school as it gets, apart from one striking feature. The prawns are fresh Dublin Bay babies, not the pink frozen shrimp typically used in this 1970s starter. The marie-rose sauce (made in our house back in the day by mixing mayonnaise with ketchup) has been nicely spiced with paprika. There’s a crunch of finely diced red onion in it. And all the pinkness (served in a cocktail glass of course) sits on top of folded shreds of butterhead lettuce. None of your iceberg nonsense here. It’s a comedy starter but one that still presses several pleasure points.

The eldest is sharing a large T-bone with his Dad while the younger boys have gone for the nuggets, to my dismay. They come with good house-cut skin-on chips but the nuggets are unforgiveable. In the world of nuggets there are good and bad. The good consist of real meat, coated and fried. The bad are spongy and salty, with no relationship to the texture of chicken, protein parcels deep fried. 

My scampi is way better: more of those Dublin Bay prawns coated in batter and fried. They’re a perfect rendition of the classic, a crunch batter outside giving way to a softer inner coating and then the meat of the seafood still soft and not gone over to the rubbery side. They’re a good post-beach treat.

We round off with a sweet rhubarb and strawberry crumble and some ice cream, before it’s time to get back in the time machine, sorry, car for the return home. The Windmill harks back to an age where children drank red lemonade and their parents smoked between courses. It’s an apt end to a retro seaside trip. 

Dinner for five with a pint and coffee came to €97.10.

THE VERDICT: 6-10 Friendly old-school restaurant with some good classics.
The Windmill restaurant, Skerries, Co Dublin, tel: 01-849 4949
Facilities: Pub-style updated with metro tiles and vintage mirrors
Music: Rock anthems
Food provenance: None
Vegetarian options: One lone goat’s cheese starter
Wheelchair access: Yes/ No