Fans of the former Lennons Café Bar of Tullow Street had to wait a long time to enjoy their wholesome food again – but it was worth it.
Sinead Byrne and her son Ross, together with some of the old staff, now run the restaurant in the new Visual Centre for Contemporary Art & the George Bernard Shaw Theatre in the heart of Carlow Town and both the restaurant and the venue that provides its stylish contemporary setting are proving a great asset to the town.
The restaurant is tucked away to the left of the reception area (go down a few steps and then the restaurant entrance is on the left hand side); once discovered, the atmosphere is friendly and casual, and welcoming local staff set arriving guests at their ease.
The setting is magnificent, with a full wall to wall, floor to ceiling window allowing full views of Carlow Cathedral and Carlow College and an outside eating space. Contemporary hanging ball lighting and a fresh flower arrangement dominate the centre of the restaurant, which has a light marble floor and banqueting seating as well as tall tables for singles or twos.
Local artists’ paintings are displayed for sale, and the room is cleverly broken up with floor to ceiling wine displays at one side, and a semi open kitchen commanding attention on another - and an intriguing system of dark wall cladding, covered in glass, allows the staff to write up the specials, and clean them off later.
Head chef Gail Johnson continues the long established Lennons philosophy of using the best local and regional artisan produce – and her appealingly simple food, cooked to order, is as welcome as the flowers in spring.
Menus offered include pre-theatre supper and dinner menus, also post show plates and tapas, but many people will come here independently of other activities in the centre to enjoy one of their ‘morning treats’ from the bakery, or for lunch.
Lunch menus offer a wide range of the wholesome, informal dishes that the Lennons built their reputation on, with tasty salads a particular strength and a good choice of open sandwiches wraps and ciabattas along with specials – which could include an exceptionally good chicken and ham vol-au-vent.
Simple things like side dishes (lovely homemade wedges, for example) and soup tell you a lot about what’s going on in a kitchen; here, soup of the day might be a lovely, deep flavoured homemade vegetable soup and it’s served with freshly baked bread, with gluten free bread offered as an option – and fans will be pleased to see the Lennons’ favourites listed – including a ploughman’s board of honey roast ham and Coolattin cheddar (made nearby in County Wicklow), for example, which is served with pickled onions, apricot chutney and crusty bread.
Finish with a popular dessert - fruit crumble with cream, perhaps, or chocolate brownie with chocolate sauce and cream – and a speciality tea or coffee, and reflect on your good fortune.
With good cooking, good value and good service from Sinead and her friendly, knowledgeable staff, Carlow is fortunate to have this restaurant – and it is in a wonderful venue.