Located on the first floor of a busy bar and night-club venue in the heart of Ballina, Siobhán and Keith Brennan's newly renovated restaurant is enjoyed for both its modern decor and high quality food.
The long, narrow room is in two sections and, although the overall effect is contemporary, traditional materials of exposed stone and old red brick work well with dark wood panels and a highly polished timber floor to create a warm and comfortable feeling. Modern upholstered sofas and armchairs add to that feeling, sitting comfortably alongside bare darkwood tables set with good glassware and cutlery.
Meats are Irish, and the house policy is to source fresh, local and in season. Everything, including pastas, sauces, terrines, dressings and desserts, is homemade, and vegetarian and gluten-free dishes are highlighted on menus.
French Chef David Gouman's creative menus and good cooking attract a loyal clientèle - and no wonder, as he offers something to suit everyone and, once it’s obvious from the high standard of cooking that even familiar dishes such as chicken wings or baby ribs are lifted above the ordinary, repeat visits soon follow to try some more.
Long menus usually set off alarm bells, but not in these capable hands. However choices will be difficult to make from such a wide range of dishes – a dozen starters, four each of the salads and fresh pasta dishes and as many as 14 main courses, featuring beef, lamb, seafood, fowl and game, most of which are locally sourced.
Highlights include equally delicious starters of Atlantic crab claws served, unusually, in a white wine and vanilla cream sauce (€9); a large bowl of classic mussels marinière with rustic bread (€9); and pork-three-ways: confit of pork belly, panfried Kelly’s black pudding and seared pork escalope with a celeriac purée and jus (€7.50).
Of the main courses, a lobster ravioli (€17) stands out from the fresh pasta dishes (several of them vegetarian), and there are some good steaks, but the real stars of the show are innovative combinations such as a winter dish of chargrilled venison steak with roast wild boar sausage served with Kelly’s black pudding mash potato, redcurrant jus and caramelised fig (€22.50).
By contrast, alongside a traditional rendition of fish’n’chips (€14.50), you may find something altogether more exotic - monkfish wrapped in banana leaves with ginger, coriander and lemongrass, served with jasmine rice and spicy Caribbean sauce (€24.50).
A choice of eight homemade desserts (all €6.50) tends towards the classic, albeit often with a flourish – vanilla panna cotta, for example, may come with a luscious passionfruit & orange broth - or you might opt for an Irish cheese plate (for two, with 2 glasses of port for €15) to round off an excellent meal.
The wine list is very accessible, with half of the list of 30 bottles under €25 and 10 available by the glass from €5.50 to €6.50. House wines €18.
The overall experience at Brennan’s is excellent and, with such pleasant surroundings, seamless service and seriously good cooking, it is hardly surprising that so many customers feel that one visit is not enough.