A magnificent ruined 13th century Franciscan abbey presides over the pretty West Cork seaside village of Timoleague - a place with a long history as a culinary punctuation mark for travellers.
In the ’90s, Dillon’s traditional shopfront on the main street was a welcome sight for anyone needing a good food stop when heading west from Cork and, through several ownerships, it was always something of an oasis in this area until its closure in 2012.
But 2015 marked the beginning of a new era at Dillon’s, with the arrival of well-known West Cork chef Richard Milnes, who took over the premises and retained the original name. The place itself hasn't changed much either. Years ago, it was a grocery shop; the big shop windows make it a bright in daytime, the counter and the shelves behind have been retained - and also the evocative strip of well worn old tiles leading from the entrance and along in front of the counter.
It didn't take long for the word of Richard Milnes' arrival to spread - his menus may not be extensive but they are packed with quality, reflecting the superb local produce available from both land and sea, and he is a terrific chef. While thinking very local in terms of main ingredients, influences that come from far and wide ensure plenty of variety - and this, plus an informal ambience and great service from Richard's partner Antje Gessche, is a sure fire recipe for success.
The summer season is short in West Cork, so the day begins early at Dillon’s, where brownies, scones, and slices are all lined up to tempt passers-by from 10am. Also a great choice of coffee drinks, everything from Espresso to Americano to a Flat White, and quite an exotic tea list with black, white and green options.
As ever, it's a good spot to drop into for lunch - there's a short simply worded menu, offering wholesome fare like platters (cheeses, meats or mixed) soups, quiches, salads and mussels, and it changes often so there's always something new for regulars. A favourite dish for seafood lovers is an excellent Provencal fish soup, served with side bowls of cheese and a garlic aioli; offered in two sizes, it also appears on the dinner menu; alternatively chowder may be offered instead. There will be good salads too, often vegetarian - colourful Beetroot, goats cheese and almond, for example - and a maybe a flavoursome tart such as leek, cheddar and herb quiche.
Dinner is the main event though and, if you're lucky, you might hit a night when they have live music. Starters overlap with the lunch menu, but also offer some very tempting extras - oysters and scallops can turn up on the menu from time to time, for example, also a half lobster (or prawns; served with salad leaves, aioli & tarragon butter, at about €15), or there may be an excellent ham hock terrine with chutney & pickle (around €8).
Tidal waters reach right into Timoleague and fish features strongly in tempting dishes like pan-fried hake with bok choi, ginger, garlic and chilli, and the monkfish that features strongly in the fish soup may be served with parsley and anchovies, or pickled lemon. Meat lovers will settle happily for flavoursome rib-eye or sirloin, of course, while confit duck leg comes with an unusual pairing of beetroot and chicory - and vegetarians may enjoy something like roasted aubergine, with spiced lentils & sweet potatoes.
And so to dessert... local berries from Dunworley feature in season and, if you go in summer, look out for stewed gooseberries with elderflower ice-cream; a real treat, it's worth making a little detour for that alone.
The drinks list is also compact but offers plenty of choice, and not just wines but also local craft beer, juices (including Karmine Apple from Con Traas at Cahir) and soft drinks from Fentimans, including a refreshing ginger beer. And the carefully selected wines may surprise, offering aperitif choices like Cave Messias dry white port, and dessert wines including the Hungarian Tokaji Aszu and sparkling Bera Moscato D'Asti to round off your meal.
Afterwards, a walk around by the abbey may appeal - and for the next visit, that you may already be planning as you leave, why not take the lovely estuary walk (along a defunct railway line) before your meal.