Retro food without the irony


While too many bars serve peanuts and Sky Sports, this rural pub does fine food instead, writes TOM DOORLEY

THE RESTAURANTis upon us once again and the vast, cheerful team that puts the programme together has descended on the lovely Wineport Lodge, near Athlone. This is the restaurant of The Restaurant,so to speak, where unfortunate celebrities are subjected to the barbed comments of myself and Paolo Tullio.

They are heroic people, as a rule, and they tend to emerge from the experience vowing that they will never complain about food in a restaurant ever again, as long as they live. What Paolo and I do is, of course, a doddle by comparison to what the poor guest chefs endure, and to the long days’ work put in by the production team.

While they toil away from early morning, we critics are holed up in the Glasson Golf Resort Hotel, way across the lough, just to ensure that we don’t get even the faintest sniff of who is in the kitchen. And we generally spend the day hammering away at our laptops.

Occasionally, however, we sally forth and have lunch somewhere. On a recent sunny autumn day, when Westmeath and Longford were at their loveliest, we meandered by the backroads over to the tiny village of Multyfarnham.

We were acting on a tip-off received from a member of the wine trade who had told us of a pub that does “good honest food in the middle of nowhere”. That’s the kind of thing we like to hear.

Paolo makes an excellent eating and travelling companion. He can quote Latin poetry, explain how to do welding, sing I Am the Great Pretender, tell you how satnav works, and compose limericks, my favourite being: “There was a young man from Rathmines/Who thought limericks should have just two lines.” This is a mere amuse bouche. He can do a lot more than that. Anyway, we descended upon Weir’s in Multyfarnham and ate very well. There was a traditional prawn cocktail with Marie Rose sauce, and a chunk of deep-fried brie with a berry and port compote to start.

Telling someone about this later, we got the response “Oh lovely! Retro food!” I’m not sure these venerable dishes ever went out of fashion here. They were done well, without any trendy irony. And then, cod in delicate tempura batter with great big, proper, handmade chips made from floury local spuds. And a fine Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak with terrific flavour, served with mushrooms and onions and a dollop of garlic butter.

We finished with a cinnamon-flavoured apple crumble, which was made on the premises (a rarity these days when it’s easier and often cheaper to buy in mass-produced puds).

This is the kind of food that should be available in a pub in every village in Ireland. It’s simple food but it takes a degree of skill and a great deal of effort and commitment to do it as well as it’s done here at Weir’s. How many rural Irish pubs do the same?

Pat and Una Weir decided some time ago that there was little future in just running a pub. So they decided to offer good, decent, honest food and the news has travelled.

It’s a fine old place with a venerable bar and a turf fire and a big, high-ceilinged restaurant space with the kind of bric-a-brac that was definitely not bought from one of those “Instant Irish Pub” companies.

Rural pubs are dying because it is no longer enough to serve drink and packets of peanuts with Sky Sport on the side. Weir’s is doing something that people really want: not fussy, fecky food but good grub in a warm, informal kind of atmosphere. And a place where the folk in the kitchen actually cook rather than open packets.

With two big bottles of mineral water, a bottle of good Rioja and a couple of Lavazza coffees, the bill for this vast lunch came to €84.

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There’s a three-course early bird menu (5-7pm) for €20.

This is one of the shortest wine lists in the country, but it hits all the required spots. There’s a Chilean Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc for €15 or a fiver a glass. Julio Bouchon Cabernet, also from Chile, is a steal at €18.50; Château Haut-Rian, a zesty white Bordeaux, is likewise at €19. Our Viñaspre Rioja Crianza (€22.50) was a ripe, well-oaked red at what would be a house wine price in far too many restaurants. The dearest wine is Coriole Redstone, a serious Oz Shiraz, €29.75.