Ice cream and fish and chips, but not as you know them

Vaughan’s on the Prom is the latest gem in the crown of an expanding family business

Vaughan’s on the Prom in Lahinch, Co Clare. Photograph:  Paul Sherwood

Vaughan’s on the Prom in Lahinch, Co Clare. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

 

“I really hope there’s raspberry, but if there isn’t I’ll get strawberry. There is always strawberry.” The little girl waiting patiently in a long queue for ice-cream on one of the hottest Sundays of the summer knows she is in for a treat. Ice-cream cones and fish and chips are the currency of all seaside resorts, but in Lahinch, Co Clare, a local family are offering something different from the usual fare.

Cow to cone is the slogan at Spooney’s, an ice-cream parlour and fish and chip shop that opened in the resort town earlier this year. The ice-cream sold here is made fresh daily, with milk that comes from a local herd and is pasteurised in-house. The batter that lightly coats the fish is made with a sourdough starter that has been in use for 19 years. Before being coated in the batter, the fish is dredged in a mixture of seasoned flour and ground up bonito flakes, seaweed and dashi powder. The chips are cut from potatoes grown in Killimer, Co Clare, and fried in beef dripping. It really isn’t standard seaside fare.

Vaughan’s Anchor Inn in nearby Liscannor is where this story starts. John Vaughan, a civil engineer who worked in the UK until returning to Co Clare with his wife Annette, opened the pub in 1979, and over the years a seafood restaurant and bedrooms overhead were added to the business. John, who died earlier this year, looked after the pub and Annette cooked the meals, later handing over the kitchen to her son Denis.

It is Denis who is responsible for the business’s expansion into Lahinch, where late last year the family bought a landmark premises right on the prom, the former O’Looney’s bar and restaurant. It was a brave move in the grip of a pandemic, but expansion had been top of the agenda for the Vaughans for some time.

“We’ve always been looking for another place, we never stopped looking for another place, but nothing seemed to suit us, and then this place came up,” says Denis Vaughan.

Substantial work had to be done before the fish and chip shop opened in February, followed by the ice-cream parlour in March. The name Spooney’s came from Denis’s late brother John junior, who died suddenly in January 2017, and whose nickname was Spooney. An ardent soccer fan, the fish and chip shop’s interior walls are a memorial to him, adorned with his collection of signed football shirts from stars of the game including Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo and Messi.

Local spuds

An order of takeaway fish and chips costs €12 here, and while the local spuds fried in beef dripping are a constant the fish that is served changes frequently.

“It depends on what’s available that’s freshest, but it’s hake, haddock, cod and whiting mainly,” Vaughan says. “The best is hake, it is lovely and soft and moist but hard to work with because it’s so soft. Haddock is good too, and the least preferable is cod – it’s flavourless. Size is important; there’s no point getting small fillets or you’ll have more batter than fish.”

For the chips, peeled and prepped in-house, Maris Pipers and Markies are the favoured varieties, but these are almost all gone for this season, so Vaughan is using new crop Casablancas from Killimer.

Fish and chips from Spooney’s in Lahinch. Photograph: Paul Sherwood
Fish and chips from Spooney’s in Lahinch. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

“We steam them first, then we blast chill them and then cook them; it’s the exact same process as Heston Blumenthal’s triple-cooked chips.”

The ready-to-fry chips have bits of skin and occasional blemishes left on them deliberately. “If they’re all perfect and blemish-free and all the rest of it, it looks shop bought.”

The batter is a talking point. “Every Easter it’s a year older. We started it 19 years ago, and we just feed it every day, same as a sourdough. We started it with flour, water and some onions, and it just morphed into what it is now. There’s a lovely sour smell off it, it’s unique to us and it makes a lighter batter.”

Aromas

The ice-cream parlour next door is also permeated by distinctive aromas of good coffee brewing and something else, sweet and sugary. Spooney’s ice-cream is made daily with milk from Patrick Lacey’s small herd of Holstein and British Freisians, collected fresh each day and pasteurised in the kitchens below the shop. It’s a highly labour-intensive approach to making ice-cream for commercial sale, “but it’s worth it, you can smell the difference in the milk,” Vaughan says.

“Grass management and breeding are the two most important things,” Lacey says of the herd he has spent a decade working on. “The higher your butterfat and protein, the more [payment] you get from the co-op,” he says, and the more delicious the ice-cream made with it will be too.

Vaughan recently acquired a 90-acre farm adjoining Lacey’s land, and plans to establish a Jersey herd there to meet the business’s demand for milk.

Collecting milk from farmer Patrick Lacey to make Spooney’s ice-cream. Photograph: Paul Sherwood
Denis Vaughan (right) collecting milk from farmer Patrick Lacey to make Spooney’s ice-cream. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Back at the shop the raw milk, creamy and rich, is pasteurised and then turned into a crème Anglaise, which is the base for all of the ice-cream flavours, made in small individual batches. There are usually eight varieties on offer, and the selection changes regularly. “Ice-creams that I like, like cherry and coconut, the kids have no interest in, they want vanilla, strawberry, chocolate,” Vaughan says.

Behind the chipper and the ice-cream parlour, right on the seafront, with dramatic views across to Liscannor and the start of the Cliffs of Moher beyond, is another gem in the crown of this expanding family business. Vaughan’s on the Prom is an extensive, newly-renovated restaurant seating around 80 people that opened its doors for the first time last month.

Denis Vaughan has taken over as head chef here, handing over the kitchen at Vaughan’s in Liscannor to his eldest son James, who is 22.

“There can only be one boss; he’s doing a good job so let him at it. He’s my eldest and my youngest is 22 weeks.”

Denis and Lisa Vaughan’s youngest son is Sean, and the middle child is Denis junior.

Global influences

Like his father before him, James Vaughan learned his craft on the job, and is doing a fine job of maintaining the restaurant’s reputation for top notch seafood as well as introducing some global influences to keep it current and interesting.

Flaggy Shore oysters come with a Vietnamese dressing; sauteed scallops have oriental-style dressed carrot and leek alongside; roasted turbot is cooked with Amalfi lemon; and monkfish comes with Colombo curry spiced butter.

At the new restaurant in Lahinch, Vaughan senior is keeping it casual but creative, with a custom-made Josper Basque grill taking pride of place in the new kitchen, and “easy, simple food, well cooked with good ingredients” on the menu. Liscannor bay lobster, Galway langoustines, and Black Angus steak feature alongside a “foot-long hot dog”.

“Get the best you can get, don’t try and reinvent the wheel, and just keep it as simple as you can, that’d be my outlook on it,” Vaughan senior says of his cooking style.

“I wasn’t blessed with the training and being able to go away. If I had my time again I suppose I would. I’d love to work in those big fancy kitchens and see what it’s all about. But, anyway, I am where I am, and ’tis grand.”

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