The metro tiles run vertically down the wall of Little Fox in the Co Clare town of Ennistymon. It’s eye-catching when you’re used to seeing those ceramic rectangles run horizontally like train carriages. Maybe it’s a subtle statement of intent: we’re going with the tropes, but we will use them differently, look at things another way, refresh the idea of what a family dinner can be.
We are in Clare to celebrate a big birthday, and our gang of 10 takes the big table at Little Fox. Ennistymon is a find in itself, a town where the main street is still a proud place, shopfronts preserved and tall town houses rising smartly above them. It feels like the place that time, plastic signage and the death of rural Ireland forgot.
Little Fox is the work of Niamh Fox, a young chef who has worked in some of Ireland and England's best restaurants and cafes, alongside greats like Jess Murphy, Aoibheann McNamara, Katie Sanderson, Denis Cotter and Margot Henderson.
She moved to Clare to “start a farm and family” with her husband, the furniture- and knifemaker Sam Gleeson, according to her website. Little Fox is The Good Life in cafe form. Its name is on the refurbished wooden shop sign that, along with the door and windowframe of the small corner building, is decked out in the yolk-yellow of an egg from a very contented hen. Inside are reclaimed tables and ply-and-tubular-steel school chairs.
Little Fox is a cafe most days of the week but does Little Fox Nights on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s small plates, which causes the usual anxiety about over- or underordering. But we’re spitting distance from the kitchen so can always call for more.
Plate swapping goes with the territory of reviewing restaurants. If you’re eating with me I’m tasting your dinner, so a meander through the small plates suits me very well. The trick that makes it suit everyone is what’s on these small plates.
Haddock ceviche has all the freshness and zing of fresh coriander and lime
Little Fox is the kind of place where menu descriptions deliver flavours in the way Instagram filters boost colour and contrast. The most expensive dish on the list is slow-cooked lamb, at €15. It comes with lemony hummus, but I’ve assured a hummus-sceptic that I’ll eat that bit. In the end there’s no need. It’s not an unwieldy splodge of mealy protein but a ring of palest, smoothest citrusy cream. We end up happily swiping juicy chunks of lamb stewed in a fruity spiced sauce through the hummus for a final flourish, one element defining the other like contrasting inks on a page.
The other spectacularly good dish is the simplest of ones, a blue cheese, which is one of the first to arrive, like a topsy-turvy meal where the cheese course kicks things off. It’s Crozier, from the Cashel Blue stable, a sheep’s cheese served here at just the right temperature with apple jelly that knocks the socks off those slabs of indifferent quince paste that get slapped on cheese plates elsewhere.
There are Moy Farm new potatoes glistening with herbed butter and salted with flakes of good salt, a house kombucha that puts the tang into the nonalcoholic-drink options. Too often if you’re on this side of the fence you end up with a slick of sugar coating your teeth by the end of the meal.
There are world-class Clarinbridge clams and mussels, juicy and perfectly cooked with a fennel and tomato liquor that’s the perfect combination of fresh shellfish and comfortingly delicious broth.
Haddock ceviche has all the freshness and zing of fresh coriander and lime. Butternut squash has been roasted into a collapsed state and then finished with the fire and crunch of Katie Sanderson’s peanut rayu. There’s a creamy aubergine dish. Dinner plate-sized flatbreads make the perfect way to carry all this to our hungry mouths.
Niamh and Sam have a smallholding where they grow some of the provisions we’re enjoying tonight. I’m guessing the gooseberries for the tart come from that source, given that the fruit is available only from a few growers and gardeners.
There are a great chocolate ganache, perfect coffees and a herbal tea to round it all off. We spill back on to the street feeling well fed and ridiculously happy. Great food in small towns gives me a giddy optimism about the world. This is quiet work done by people who believe it’s worth doing things well, revelling in making things beautifully rather than making a financial killing. Little Fox is a beautiful idea which puts Ennistymon on the food map.
Dinner cost about €38 per person, including drinks, dessert and coffee
- Verdict A true delight in a beautiful town
- Food provenance Excellent. Clarinbridge seafood and Moy Farm vegetables both featured
- Facilities Fine
- Vegetarian options Great
- Wheelchair access Room is accessible
- Music Nice