Paolo Tullio's Review
This week I had a couple of days driving around the midlands. I don't know if it was global warming, but on both days there were spells of sunshine which made the countryside sparkle in the low winter sun. My first port of call was Tullamore, which I haven't visited for years. Back in the 80s I used to go to visit my old friend Vincent Slevin who lived near Tullamore in a charming and haunted old house outside Clonaslee. At the time he was working for D.E. Williams and Co., the people who make Irish Mist liqueur, so what I remember best was sitting late into the night with Vincent drinking the sticky Mist.
Like most provincial towns around the country, Tullamore has been transformed by the Celtic Tiger. It's positively buzzing these days. On a mid-week day in January it was bustling with people and traffic. I'd been given the advice that for a good pub lunch I should try The Wolf Trap. I found it easily enough and was pleased to find a large car park right behind it.
The Wolf Trap is cavernous; it stretches right back covering several rooms all set up with tables and chairs. It was obvious that a lot of people choose to have lunch here, because shortly after I arrived the place was filled to capacity. But what strikes you instantly and forcefully about The Wolf Trap is the level of service. There seemed to be a small army of people serving lunch, all of them quick, efficient and pleasant. I was shown to table, handed a menu and a glass of water in the blink of an eye.
The menu offers a soup, a chowder, Caesar salad, smoked salmon, chicken wings, potato skins with cheese and bacon, cottage pie, stuffed chicken, tagliatelle with meat balls, chicken à la King, fish and chips and tiger prawns in filo pastry. All of these dishes were 10 or less. There was also a choice of two roasts, pork or beef, which were priced at 11.
I started with the vegetable soup, which was thick and warming with the sweet taste of parsnips predominating. It made a good start for the next course, where I'd chosen the roast pork. This came with nicely cooked shredded cabbage - unthinkable the last time I was in Tullamore when it would almost certainly have been boiled for four hours into a soft mush. With the cabbage I had boiled potatoes, roast potatoes and mixed veg that looked like carrots and parsnips.
I know I go on a bit about seasonality, but the trouble with winter is that root vegetables is all you can get. Normally carrots and parsnips are not a food of choice for me, but I dutifully tasted my mixed carrot and parsnip and then to my surprise ended up eating it all. Frankly, it tasted very good indeed.
The portions are what you'd expect in the country - big - so I was in no shape for dessert, of which five were on offer all at 3.95. Instead I settled on an espresso to finish my meal. The Wolf Trap also has a restaurant proper on the first floor, but it's only open at night. If it's run as professionally as the bar downstairs, then it'll be worth a visit next time I'm in Tullamore at night. My lunch, including a glass of lager, came to 19.05. Simple, uncomplicated food and excellent service make The Wolf Trap worth a detour.
The next day I found myself in Mullingar at lunchtime and I took a stroll around the town centre to see what might catch my fancy. I nearly missed Danny Byrne's, the entrance seemed almost understated. On my second walk past I noticed it and liked what I saw. Inside it has a welcoming feel with low, red lights and lots of candles - not those fecky little nite-lites - but big, real candles giving the interior an really warm glow. Not quite enough light to do my crossword with, but easy on the eyes. It's comfortable too, with plenty of arm chairs and sofas as well as plain wooden tables and chairs arranged in various nooks and crannies in a room almost as big as the Wolf Trap.
Just inside the door there's a salad bar set up with a choice like a deli - potato salad, egg mayonnaise, cold meats and cheeses. I was in the mood for something hot and so I found the hot carvery, further on inside the pub. A long counter runs along the left-hand side and there was a good choice of hot food - baked salmon, roast pork, roast beef, stuffed chicken and a pasta dish. The roast beef looked good, so the serving chef carved me two thick slices and then we added some potatoes and vegetables. A hungry person could easily have had a plate filled to capacity - I had to keep saying just a small portion, please.'
I enjoyed my lunch with a glass of lager, and just like the day before finished up with an espresso, which brought my bill to 15.05. In both of these pubs I'd had a main course for just over a tenner, and if you like comparisons with meals on the continent, both of these places compare well. There aren't many places in continental Europe where you'd get a main course for 10.
Neither of these meals were high gastronomy, but they were both wholesome, seasonal, well-prepared and good value for money. If that's the shape of the New Ireland, then I'm much in favour of it.