On the scenic road from Killybegs, heading out west towards Glencolumbkille, you can’t miss this smartly maintained establishment. With its big oval black and white logo set against wine-red walls, it’s a very clear invitation to investigate and the hungry traveller would do well to take it up and pull safely off the road into the carpark at the back.
Formerly a farmhouse, the outside of the old building is traditional and so too is the low-ceilinged bar/restaurant on the ground floor. With its open stonework, tiled floor, old darkwood furniture, a stove and table lamps, white tongue and groove wainscoting and narrow carpeted stairs with white banisters, it’s a cosy and welcoming place to come into for a bite of lunch on a damp Donegal day. But the patterned paper on the gable wall (although quietly coloured), gives a clue that all may not be as it seems.
So take a peek around the rest of the building and you’ll be in for a surprise, as a recent makeover has transformed it with eye-poppingly smart modern décor featuring downlighters and accent colours in unlikely tones of lipstick pink and lime – think fashionable big-print wallpaper with huge flowers, lime green walls and (in one of the top rooms) a lot of white leather. Yet, fun as this is, you’ll find that the table settings and comfortable high back chairs are more traditional than they look so it’s not just a gimmick.
But it’s for the food and hospitality that people come here anyway, and the kitchen still showcases local seafood and other Donegal produce as it has always done. An interesting signature dish is Donegal smoked lamb, served with stout bread and Filligan’s plum chutney – Filligans preserves are handmade nearby in Glenties and, although they have a big reputation, it’s still a small traditionally run business right beside the family home.
But seafood is the big draw, kicking off – as Irish menus so often do - with chowder. Of all the seafood chowders served around Ireland, there are no two the same – and, unusually, the Kitty Kelly’s version features mainly whitefish and contains no salmon at all (it is too often the other way around); served with freshly baked brown bread and butter, it makes a substantial lunchtime snack at a low cost and, like several other dishes on the daytime menu, is also offered in the evening.
Desserts offered during the day tend to be the kind of bakes that go equally well with a cup of tea or coffee as a snack (and feature recipes for luscious cakes by TV chefs such as Darina and Rachel Allen and also Nigella Lawson’s Guinness cake with Philadelphia cheese topping), while evening choices also include some retro treats such as baked Alaska.
All round the value offered is really good, with a daytime bowl of mussels or a speciality of creamy garlic mushrooms served in a crusty loaf each about €5.50, while a tasty seafood pie with ‘potato thatch’, or monk & prawn au gratin cost around €8.50 – and on the evening à la carte, it’s interesting to note that, while both the ‘world famous seafood platter’ and scallops mornay rise to about €26.50, other premium dishes such as black sole on the bone and ½ lobster with scallops Newburg offer great value at about €22.50, as does 10oz sirloin house steak & ‘the full works’, while vegetarian, chicken and salmon dishes are all quite modestly priced.
Wines are also fairly reasonably priced (house wines 22.50; quarter bottle €5) and the service by local staff is very friendly and helpful. A good place to stop in the day – booking is recommended in the evening.