Restaurant review: Love at first bite in Mews, Baltimore

Three friends have taken over a dusty old coachhouse and turned it into a wonderful food adventure

   
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The Mews

  • Baltimore Village, West Cork
  • 028 20572
  • Irish

Word of mouth has brought us here. A friend of a friend ate “the best food she’s ever eaten in Ireland” in an old stone building in the armpit of a hilly village. And now I’m tucking into food eaten primarily by seals.

We humans are lucky if we can find mackerel fresh, much less almost quivering. This mackerel tartare is dotted with charred gooseberry slices, wood sorrel and dayglo orange nasturtium petals. It’s a revolutionary plate of food, making the four-hour drive worth every second.

Mews in Baltimore in West Cork is an analog experience. Head chef Luke Matthews has spent more time cooking than Tweeting since they opened at Easter weekend. Instagram has been spared pictures of their beautiful Dunbeacon Pottery plates of food. A polite but firm line at the end of the menu asks diners not to use their phones. Even the name, with its lasagne and Black Tower feel, has a “move along nothing to see here” kind of vibe. The stone building has housed a variety of restaurants over 25 years.

Matthews (29) worked with Barry Fitzgerald (the chef behind Etto in Merrion Row) in the Michelin-starred Harwood Arms. Fellow chef Robert Collender (31) was Etto’s manager for a spell. Front of house here ,James Ellis (31) is a school friend. The three wanted their own place, but Dublin was too pricey. So they drove the Wild Atlantic Way to find somewhere. And they landed up here. All three live upstairs.

They updated the kitchen, patched the foot-shaped holes in the floor and varnished it shiny as a toffee apple. The bentwood chairs were painted the same duck egg green as the timber ceiling and they bought good table linens, creamy church candles and those stroke-ably gorgeous Dunbeacon plates and bowls.

Finally, they took the tasting menu idea out for a good talking to, surgically removed its poker stiffness and turned it into a louche and friendly thing called the convivial menu. It’s comprised of the best stuff landed or grown or found that day. It’s €45 from start to finish. With only an amble up the hill ahead, we do the salty dog on the wine pairing (three glasses for €25 a head), a fino to start and a sherry brandy at the end.

But before we roll out those barrels, we start at sea. First up is brown bread warm from the oven and smoked John Dory roe taramasalata that couldn’t be more brackishly satisfying if they’d strained it through a fisherman’s sock. Then there are two lobster rolls, gorgeous mouthfuls of lobster tail snuggled in a buttery brioche roll. The third sea plate has two small pieces of brill fried golden in butter and resting on alexanders, a hedgerow weed that cooks up a bit like kale.

So, love at first bite. But we’re three dishes in (four if you count the bread). At these portion sizes we’re going to leave hungry and drunk. There’s no need to worry, I reassure the husband, who isn’t one bit worried. There’s a big plate of dinner coming.

Two cuts of Walsh’s lamb are served. There’s shoulder cooked to melting consistency in a beaded liquor sweet with lamb juice and thyme, and tongue-soft slices of leg meat. Homeguard potatoes have been sliced and roasted in lamb fat. If I have to pick a fault, it would be that the cavolo nero kale is a touch watery. But the Baby Gem makes me go weak at the knees. Two charred lettuce hearts smothered with a lemony anchovy sauce are sprinkled with panko crumb.

“Would we like more of anything”, we’re asked? Just more time to come and eat here again tomorrow.

We’re offered a pause because they’re not turning tables. And then the fun kicks off again with a kind of condensed afternoon tea selection. There are candied rhubarb strings of chewy, sugary tang; a perfect crumbly chunk of Coolea made by west Cork cheesemakers Dick and Sinead Willems, and two raisin-dotted drop scones. There are strawberries halved and steeped in an elderflower syrup that tastes like a summer hedgerow, a bowl of gobstopper-sized doughnuts with more strawberry coulis inside them, and perfect vanilla ice cream.

The Mews is magic. Will it thrive in February when the red-trousered visitors have migrated back to the Four Courts and donned their black plumage? I dearly hope so. So do they. Matthews specialises in game, Ellis says when I ring him to get the who’s who. They deserve to make Baltimore a destination restaurant town. In the meantime, three friends are having a food adventure and the summer of their lives. The brilliant thing is they’re bringing diners along for the ride.

The convivial menu with wine pairing, fino, brandy, tea and coffee came to €170.

The verdict: 9/10 Restaurants like this don’t happen very often. Go now

Facilities: Upstairs and unisex

Music: Old school pop classics

Food provenance: Impeccable

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Request when booking

Second helping... We got so lucky in our pitstop on the road to west Cork that we stopped there on the way back too. Rohu’s Country Market in Innishannon is stuffed with delicious things. The crab and cucumber sandwich on Arbutus baguette was divine. I bought a bag of Sandra Burns’ Joe’s Farm vegetable crisps meaning to try them on my kids. But they were so good they were eaten before little hands got near them. And the caramel triangles? The stuff of dreams.

Rohu’s Country Market, Main Street, Innishannon, Co Cork