When Bandon’s Chapel Steps, then a café, upgraded to a full restaurant late in 2012, owners Siobhan and Sean O’Reilly put a great team in place. Chef Kevin O’Regan was recruited from Electric in Cork city, while front of house was put into the experienced hands of Caroline O’Flynn. A good start being half the battle, the centrally located Chapel Steps quickly became established as a leading West Cork restaurant.
It was formerly a bustling butcher shop, run by the O'Sullivan brothers John (Siobhan's Dad) and Teddy, who were renowned for their excellence in butchery and food provenance and today's mission statement reflects that: “We bring those same philosophies and passions to the Chapel Steps through our aged Black Irish Angus Steaks, our use of local produce and our commitment to freshness and quality.”
The split-level restaurant space is eye catching, the main feature being a raised semicircle, almost like a large pulpit, facing you as you enter. Gothic arches on the windows and doors echo the church theme too, and lanterns, light cones and mirrors are used in the decor, making it a very pleasing place indeed.
But all that would count for little if the food wasn't up to scratch. But have no worries, it is excellent, based on fresh local ingredients, including fresh fish bought on the nearby coast that very morning.
There's a great choice, with a leaning towards colourful, Mediterranean dishes. Starters may include an unusual local product, Toons Bridge Mozzarella (genuine buffalo mozzarella made near Macroom), perhaps in a tasty tart of marinated tomato and basi; with rocket salad, pesto and tapenade, while you might find pan fried skate wing with roast peppers among the mains, or flavoursome meat choices such as rosemary marinated lamb rump.
Something sweet to finish with could mean Baked Alaska (a retro favourite, currently enjoying renewed popularity on menus) or perhaps a fruit-based dish like glazed pineapple with sweet spices, mango and coconut parfait.
A short but wide ranging wine list includes quite a few offered by the glass. Look out for the Westend Estate unoaked Chardonnay from Australia and the Bodegas Ramón Bilbao Crianza Rioja, both supplied by Tindal Wines.
The children’s menu is full of the kids’ favourites but cooked exactly the way the food is prepared for the adult menu, reflecting the best of fresh, local and seasonal produce: “Our chefs are very conscious of keeping our kids menu as healthy as possible.”
The church theme may be atmospheric, but this is a thoroughly modern restaurant providing warm and efficient service, focused contemporary cooking and good value - a winning combination.
Speciality evenings (Steak on Wednesday, Fish on Thursday offer great value, and they are open for Sunday lunch.