Murph’s Bistro review: eel is back on the menu

Fergus Murphy has turned this old inn into a bistro serving some good local ingredients

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Murph's Bistro

  • Derragarra Inn
  • (049) 433 1033
  • Irish

There are two scary things outside the Derragarra Inn in the Cavan village of Butlersbridge. The first is a shawled mannequin who stands on the roof grinning maniacally into the wind with her donkey and turf cart. Butlersbridge (or The Bridge as it’s know hereabouts) is my mother in law’s home place. The witchy turf woman used to reduce at least one of her children to tears of terror. The second scary thing is the sign saying food is served here all day.

Generally that’s a failsafe signal to go elsewhere for dinner. But tonight we’re being brave. The Derragarra Inn has changed hands but they’ve kept the kitsch on the roof. Maybe it’s a much loved landmark. The place is now called Murph’s Bistro. Fergus Murphy is the chef owner and he has worked a world away in Le Gavroche, the two star restaurant of Michel and Albert Roux, according to the restaurant’s website. We settle into winged armchairs by a toasty wood-burning Stanley and nightmares recede to the gentle crooning of Rod Stewart does jazz classics.

Inside the Inn is almost entirely Bistro, with every corner of the large place packed with people eating at tables rather than sipping pints in nooks. Its old stone walls have been clad in either painted timber or a sandstoney version of stone and there are at least three old white and green miniature telephone boxes on the bar. A shillelagh wags occasionally from its hook beside the kitchen entrance as busy staff brush past bearing plates of dinner. There’s lots of time to take in the surroundings because our food takes a long time to arrive, a good fifty minutes. But I’ve spent time in more unpleasant places. The lovely staff are very apologetic. And after the long initial lull courses come pretty promptly.

Bistro staples are here in their droves but there are more interesting things on the menu (pan fried kangaroo fillet anyone?). Towering burgers constitute a lot of what comes past us. I’m making a beeline for Lough Neagh eel. It comes presumably out of the freezer as this year’s eel season is still some weeks away from opening. But I’ll take Lough Neagh eel anywhere I can find it on an Irish menu, as virtually the entire stock gets shipped to Holland and London’s Billingsgate Fish Market as soon as the eels are hauled from the water. In Murph’s Bistro the eel has been fried to a blackened finish in its own copious oil, exactly as the eel fishermen themselves recommend, and served with a rocket and bacon salad.

Across the table generous chunks of O’Doherty’s black pudding have been tumbled in a bowl with more rocket and small chunks of blue cheese rather than the “reggiano shavings” promised on the menu. It’s a better match.

Roast leg of lamb comes as a real plate of dinner swamped in a meaty old school gravy, which is a little heavy handed for the luscious meat and good dauphinoise spuds, large slabs of potato steeped in garlic cream. French beans have been boiled to wilt stage rather than kept crunchy. I have good fried mackerel, pin boned so that the smallest needle is gone and the skin crisp enough to enjoy as part of each forkful. A warm potato and spinach salad turns out to be chunks of chipped potato, fried and mixed with spinach, which isn’t quite the “salad” I was expecting.

Desserts are a good house-made bakewell tart and a jaw achingly sweet baked Alaska, that’s just warm marshmallow goo swirled around a chilly vanilla ice cream heart.

It’s not perfect but if you needed any convincing that food can be the salvation of the country pub then you can see it here in Murph’s Bistro. There is a sprinkling of French fancy words on the menu (those limp green beans were “lyonnaise”) but otherwise Fergus Murphy is just serving good ingredients, which go down well with Celtic Warrior, the pale ale from local brewing brothers, the Hyland Brewing Company. Skip the kangaroo it’s the eel that puts him in a different class of pub or bistro chef.

Murph’s Bistro at the Derragarra Inn, Butlersbridge, Co Cavan (049) 433 1033

Dinner for two with a glass of Guinness, a bottle of Celtic Warrior and a coffee came to €83.95

Verdict: 6/10 Better than average pub grub in a traditional village inn

Music: Easy listening

Facilities: A chandelier but no hot water in the tap

Food Provenance: Good. Eel from Lough Neagh, O’Doherty’s black pudding, Silverhill duck

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Limited