Review: Sunday lunch at Ballymore Inn feels like home

The owners have been serving great food in this Kildare pub for more than 20 years

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The Ballymore Inn

A handwritten letter snags your attention while dozens of digital messages stream ceaselessly past. The author writes like she cooks, elegantly and in an unrushed fashion. Her letter arrives with a copy of Cooking at the Ballymore Inn, a collection of recipes from a restaurant kitchen that Georgina O’Sullivan has run for 20 years with her husband, Barry.

As invitations to visit a place go, the book is some calling card. So on a golden October Sunday and we peel our boys off their game controllers and head for Ballymore Eustace. We take a stroll down to the reservoir. Up ahead a stag leaps dramatically out of the forest, clears the path in a bound and is gone so fast we could have dreamt him.

After that excitement Sunday in Ballymore Eustace is so sleepy it seems as though even the tumbleweed can’t be bothered to move. But inside the Ballymore Inn is buzzing. It looks like any other roadside pub, low and cosy. There’s a mosaic floor and two fireplaces with baskets of logs facing each other on opposite walls. You sit on creaky rattan chairs or handsome banquette seats. Over in the small shop area there are jars of housemade goodies and not one, but two, types of Maldon salt.

Then the sourdough bread arrives, still warm, with a small bowl of basil and fennel oil bread dip. If they take their bread this seriously then pizza seems like a good option and it is. That – and a generous bowl of chicken wings and a promise to share some of my steak – keeps everyone happy.

The non-driver orders a glass of Craigies, a cider as crisp as a walk through dry leaves. First up is a house classic, the chicken liver pate that has been on the menu since they opened. This is not the moussey mealy paste we get so often from the food service industry. It’s a slab of putty coloured loaf smooth as a beach stone and made exactly how my mother made it when she reared chickens and had a freezer full of livers for which she had to find a use. O’Sullivan fries the livers in butter, deglazes and flames the pan with brandy and then blends the delicious results into a butter-smooth paste. The only diversion from the path that I remember is a sprinkling of pistachios on the top, a 1990s touch of class.

The €28.85 sirloin special of the day is not cheap but several people at the table get a chunk as it’s the length of a baby’s arm. Ordered rare, it comes that way (a first in an Irish restaurant for me). Outside the meat is charred and smoked adding another layer of flavour to a brilliant slab of cow that was reared in West Cork and has been dry-aged for 28 days. Those were not wasted days. The meat is draped over a white bean puree, the only element of the meal that doesn’t delight, as it’s a little too mealy in texture. There’s a pooling of sweetly meaty juices into a green herb oil that not only looks beautiful but also tastes deeply right. The bean puree is forgotten in favour of a stupendous bowl of champ, a pool of melted butter in its middle.

Ice cream and a brownie drenched in chocolate sauce are pronounced “absolutely heavenly”. We buy a bag of shortbread fingers to take home. They break in thick crumbly chunks. There are four ingredients in them, I read in the cookbook later: flour, sugar, butter and vanilla.

You’ll read a lot of guff about hand made food. But I can spot someone who’s really doing it because it reminds me of home. I love what’s happening here, not least the note on the kids’ menu that babies get soup of the day and potato for free.

Happy birthday Ballymore Inn. Long may you continue.

Lunch for five with a cider, tap water and coffees came to €116.20

Second Helping

I once dabbled with the sloppy business of sourdough, fed my starter more carefully than my children and then watched it drop to the bottom of a glass of water like lead and produce a loaf as alluring as chewed tyre rubber. I threw in the (splattered) towel. So I’m hoping to pick up some hints from a master baker. Thibault Peigne of Tartine bakery will be among the speakers at tomorrow’s Dublin Made Me market in Smock Alley. It’s a free market and talks event I’ve cooked up with Dublin2020 to bring great food producers in the city under one roof. Come along to taste, talk and connect with food made and grown in the city.