Monday, August 31, 2009
Fitzpatrick’s Bar & Restaurant
Fitzpatrick’s Bar & Restaurant
Dundalk, Co. Louth
Tel: + 353 42 937 6193
Eating in Ireland is truly a roller-coaster ride that lurches easily from (if you’ll excuse the term) feast to famine. When it’s good, it’s very, very good but when it’s bad it’s usually so bad that it’s an experience in itself. Sometimes the simplest things delight – bacon, cabbage and potatoes, the national dish, sounds awfully plain, but at its best it’s a revelation: a golden ‘floury’ spud, tranches of steaming pink, tender bacon and a pile of slightly crunchy, slightly salty cabbage cooked in the bacon water and running every gamut of green from the pastel light green of sun shining through winter surf to the deep green of the fresh fields in the spring. Parsley sauce is a love it or hate it experience, but I love it, curly parsley chiffonaded into a butter-rich creamy thick sauce that drops rather than pours.
And then there are the awful disasters – these days from Irish chefs treading the same well-worn paths of wretchedness that the Brits have already blundered along - stupid cack-handed melanges of ‘Thai-style’ spices imposed on ingredients that deserve more respect, awful attempts at food with ‘molecular’ influences and, unforgivably, ‘nouveau Irish’ food – piss-poor attempts to serve classic Irish dishes in plates of clashing flavours and colours that revolt rather than delight.
This, then, is the gastronomic wilderness that is Ireland post ‘Celtic Tiger’ - it’s a dangerous place, people, a country in transition...
You will always find Cork’s Ballymalloe, the mother-lode of Irish cookery, a place of wonder. But I found an almost equally wonderous thing near Carlingford – a pub that looks so cod-Irish from the road that anyone but an American would shudder and pass it by. And yet the locals flock there in their hundreds, Les Routiers has slapped its mark on the place and so many awards decorate its walls you can almost see them in the sea of mad memorabilia that covers every surface – horizontal and vertical alike. And I include the ceiling – you have to duck at times to avoid being brained by low-hanging beams festooned in brass pumps, irons, cameras and, well, just stuff really.
Fitzpatrick’s pub should be a disaster. It’s famous, bang on the tourist trail and decorated outside with flowerbed jokes, bicycles, baths and bedsteads. They pour Guinness with a flourish of shamrock on the ‘head’, for God’s sake.
Eat there. It’s expensive (you’d better be ready to shell out €30 for a main) but I loved it. When food makes me laugh, I know I’ve ‘arrived’ – and I laughed my way through dinner at Fitzpatrick’s.
We ate in the restaurant (a small area to the back of the huge, labrynthine pub) which has its own separate kitchen and a ‘local’ chef. The main kitchen had a chef from Newry, but we decided not to take the foreign food. Service to begin with was a bit patchy – our Sancerre came warm and with a lot of mucking about with the glasses, but eventually things settled down and the Fleurie that followed was a delight. The wine list is basic, smartly compiled and good.
Breads were offered around, Irish brown, white, garlic and others – and then the kitchen sent out a tiny bowl of vegetable soup as an ‘amuse geule’ – a little taste of warm, mushroom-dominated thickness that was just right for the rainy night.
I took a starter of pan-fried scallops and black pudding, purposefully courting disaster. I have always hated ‘surf and turf’ dishes, believing (perhaps perversely) that if God had intended beef and shrimps to be in the same place he’d have arranged that rather than separating the two environments quite so effectively.
It was really good. It would have been stunning and world-class if the scallops had been slightly less cooked, had spent a couple of minutes less on the pass under lamps. But the black pudding was rich, crumbly and served with a creamy slightly sharp sauce that did it proud, almost a béarnaise but not quite. I was grinning by now, and it wasn’t the excellent Sancerre alone. Other starters taken included breaded mushrooms with garlic mayonnaise, which were pronounced good but would have been better fried and served dry rather than buttered as they were. Odd that you could get a black pudding scallop starter right and muff a breaded mushroom dish, but there you go.
My main was classic stuff – an 8oz fillet steak served on a celeriac mash (note no horseradish addition to the mash, thank God. Horseradish mashes are an invention of the devil) with a black truffle sauce and foie gras. I thought I’d go for the light option, obviously.
It was impeccably executed – a delight. The steak beautifully done and the little decorations of foie gras were fried off so they were crisp outside and yet wobbled, the sauce was rich and dark, pungently contrasting the rich, buttery mash and it was all topped with crisp onion rings in a light batter. The fries that came along with it were fat, crisp and floury when cut. A bowl of crisp, green spring vegetables with a rich cream sauce and another of new potatoes in butter arrived for each pair of diners. Others had sirloin steaks, a plainer serving of huge and beautifully cooked steak and then there were plates of fresh sea-bass.
Desserts came with an attendant cardiologist. I passed and selflessly ordered an Irish coffee (yup, a shamrock of brown sugar was dusted on it. I forgave them) but others took silly things like a walnut and banana crumble tart: rich, warm and gloopy, swimming in a crème Anglais, apple tart and ice cream and the ‘special’, organic strawberries and strawberry ice cream served in a little brass bucket alongside strawberry compote and cream. It looked outre, chi-chi and crass and tasted divine.
We went off to the bar for icy glasses of Tyrconnell (Ireland’s finest single malt and a whisky that eclipses much that Scotland offers, IMHO) afterwards. Because if you’re going to be this indulgent, you might as well go mad.
Good wine, outstanding food and the insanely opinionated Carrie - part entertainment and part expert guide to the menu, womens' hurling and the delights of working in a restaurant with the boyfriend (‘the boyfriend’, the barman, was of course stopped and shown off to us to his horror) meant that we all agreed our evening in Fitzpatrick’s was a one-off, a memorable evening of excellence in a convivial, warm place filled with laughter, cheer and delight.