‘Y ou look like you’ve been down a coal mine,” is a frequent accusation round our house. And today we have. Our gang of four adults and five slightly-smudged children have been down in the Arigna mine, where we heard how the miners lay on their sides in the low shelf of coal and hacked out five tonnes of coal a day with a short-handled shovel.
We've come out of the damp dripping middle of the Arigna mountain with a chorus of hunger rumbles and headed to Carrick-on-Shannon for lunch. The Oarsman is a pub on hilly Bridge Street in this smart Leitrim town. It's a big ask to get a table for such a large group on a busy weekend. But they find one upstairs, with a Dimplex radiator to take the chill off the room. It's a long table with comfy seats and a skylight.
There are several things I like about the menu, not least the kids’ menu which says that they do most of the adult specials as half portions for children. There’s a spelt pasta option and fresh haddock fish fingers. Elsewhere the “Artisan sandwiches” look pricey at first glance, roughly between €10 and €13 apiece but when they arrive it’s clear that the word sandwich is a bit of an understatement.
It takes a while for our food to come, but that’s understandable, and the children’s chips and chicken arrive first, piping hot on individual wooden boards with small buckets of floury, well-cooked chips. The breaded chicken pieces (yes, the goujon option was the universal favourite) have been made with real breast meat and don’t contain the typical salt overdose. The youngest child can barely be seen behind a wide-brimmed bowl of pasta with cheese grated on top. A child’s burger is proper house-made beef pattie with good bread. A jug of tap water, one of orange squash and a pint and a half of Guinness are all served to the table to go along with the feast.
There’s a craft to the rest of the food that lifts it out of the dismal carvery pub fare category. I’ve got the veggie special which has three elements. A half green pepper is stuffed with chickpeas, butternut squash and beetroot cubes and sprinkled with quinoa, topped with melted goat’s cheese. A broccoli and feta salad has been put on its best behaviour with a dressing of lemon juice and crunch is added with sunflower seeds and toasted walnuts. Then there’s a tangle of lemon-dressed Japanese greens that taste as fiery and fresh as the ones I pick in my own garden. The final flourish is a smear of green which tastes like a wild garlic puree. When I ask later, I’m told it’s regular garlic that’s been oven-roasted with honey and then blended with fresh coriander. Now that’s what I call putting some thought in.
The “sustainable” fish of the day is ling, which has been pan-fried and put on beetroot with more of those mizunas and rocket leaves. A veggie sandwich has a pile of well-cooked vegetables on a sweet, almost scone-like, spelt bread with goat’s cheese melted on top. The steak sandwich is excellent.
We order three desserts to share and get beautifully plated presentations of ice cream, with spun-sugar swirls on top, a blackberry mousse and a pear and almond tart. The ice creams have that creaminess that comes from being home-made, although a toasted almond one isn’t quite a hit as the nuts have become rubbery. A disk of sponge at the bottom of the mousse is too soft to work.
As we go downstairs the youngest asks about a net hung up at the bar. "It's for decoration," is my guess. "No. It's for catching burglars," he says, which suggests he's seen too many Scooby-Doo episodes. They certainly don't need it to catch customers. It's a tall order to please a hungry crowd and the Oarsman has done it. Lunch for nine with drinks and two espressos came to €103.35.
The Verdict: 7.5/10
A gorgeous pub with the opposite of a freezer-to-
The Oarsman Bar and Cafe, Bridge Street, Carrick-on-Shannon,