Carlow is one of Ireland’s loveliest counties yet - surprisingly, considering its convenience to the capital - perhaps also one of the most underrated. But that may be a plus for visitors, who will find an idyllically lush and unspoilt place with pretty villages (none more so than Borris) and lovely river scenes, including Clashganny Lock - its stunningly beautiful rural setting is best seen from a roadside vantage point nearby. Once seen never forgotten, it’s easy to understand why this is one of Ireland’s most famous views...
And now Robert and Karen White’s impressive new restaurant, just a hundred yards from the lock, provides yet another reason to visit this beauty spot as soon as possible.
It’s down a narrow road (signed from the ‘main’ road) and, although it may look a little bare at first - garden clearance was needed for essential work, including the car park - it will grown in soon enough and the fine old mid 19th century granite house is set in woodland that was planted when the house was built.
Robert is the chef (previously at Monart spa, nearby at Enniscorthy, always known for its cuisine) and Karen, who has a hotel background, is warmly hospitable and very comfortable in front of house.
Two smartly furnished dining rooms flank the front door and, as you enter, you’ll notice that the kitchen door is open at the end of the hall, so you can see Robert cooking - a welcoming touch.
Looking out onto mature trees, the dining rooms offer art pieces for sale on the walls and, with high backed leather chairs, white linen, good glassware and promptly served iced water and bread, the scene is set for a special - but accessibly priced - outing.
There’s also a comfortable reception room where you can enjoy an aperitif while choosing from the menu - at the time of the Guide’s visit there was no wine licence, so guests were invited to bring their own (and, very generously, no corkage was charged).
With six dishes to choose from on each course, the dinner menu offers something for everyone and, wisely, most options are upbeat renditions of popular dishes - starters like confit duck spring roll with sliced mango and bean sprout salad leaves and soy & sesame dressing (great flavour in the duck meat, a lovely dish), for example, and crisp calamari rings, tomato and shallot dressing (excellent calamari and a tasty dip).
Other appealing starters may include ham hock terrine with piccalilli, toasted brioche and pistachio nuts, and home cured gravadlax with a smoked salmon wonton, pickled cucumber, and mustard & dill dressing, stylishly presented on slates. There’s always an interesting vegetarian option on both courses (possibly featuring local cheeses, such as Wicklow brie), and a daily soup, which may also be vegetarian.
Mains are evenly balanced between fish and local meats such as Slaney Valley lamb, plus some poultry and the vegetarian dish. Perfectly cooked roast monkfish with lemon and fennel risotto and roast pepper, and roast rump of lamb with braised flank, colcannon and garlic & balsamic jus are both highly recommended, while other choices may include a very attractive tempura of cod fillet with French style peas and tartar sauce.
And, of course, there’s the good steak that is de rigeur in Irish restaurants - in this case a classy version of the country classic, comprising an 8oz ribeye with pont neuf potatoes (chunky hand cut French fries), tomato & brie stuffed mushrooms, and pepper sauce.
To finish choose between a good cheese platter and classic desserts some of which, such as Wexford strawberry Eton Mess (crisp meringue and soft, naturally sweet strawberries combined with whipped cream… simple, and very delicious) depend on the season, while timeless choices may include chocolate mousse - served in a small glass bowl with crushed honeycomb providing a nice extra touch, this is full of flavour and not too heavy.
With Robert’s excellent cooking, Karen’s warmly professional supervision of the dining rooms and the wonderful setting, Clashganny House offers an accessible treat for discerning diners and is set to become a key destination, both for the lucky locals and visitors to the area.