Paul Dempsey and Pauline Roe’s almost-Shannonside bar and restaurant has a lovely olde world feeling with dark wood, bric-à-brac and prints and, unusually, it doubles as an art gallery, so good original paintings add interest and charm. But the good food served is the main draw for most of the regulars, and visitors who pile in off their cruisers for dinner or plan a stop when driving out west or heading home after the weekend are sure of a good meal.
Monaghan-born Pauline is the chef. She is a graduate of the rightly revered Cathal Brugha Street College of Catering (these days rather prosaically referred to as ‘DIT’ - Dublin Institute of Technology), and you can always tell when there’s someone in the kitchen with a real grounding in food. It shows on the plate and on the palate, and in this case also on the menu where there’s an obvious respect for the producers who supply the quality ingredients that inspire her good cooking. Paul, who is from County Kildare, is the host and he likes to lighten things up, claiming he has “bluffed his way through practically everything.” As the best hosts often do.
Seasonality is key to Pauline’s frequently changing menus and the choice offered is impressive for a small restaurant. Sensibly, given the clientèle, there’s a core of popular dishes, including excellent steaks from the highly regarded John Stone of Longford, who supplies their beef and lamb. In a tasty diversion from tradition, their steaks are served with flat cap mushroom filled with confit onions - the main vegetable supplier is Shanley’s of Longford, and Paul and Pauline make sure there is some even more local produce on the menu too, as they grow saladings, herbs and vegetables in their own garden (and polytunnel) in Tarmonbarry.
Steaks are always the number one favourite around here, but there’s also plenty to tempt more adventurous diners, all based on top quality produce from carefully selected suppliers around Ireland.
Along with individuals, some of the best distributors are credited too -always the sign of a caring chef. They include Odaios Foods, Dublin, and Redmond Fine Foods who both select the producers they represent with the greatest care - the renowned Salters of Carlow chickens and Ballydehob ducks, for example, are among the dozens of excellent producers listed by Redmond Fine Foods.
Appealing fish cookery includes tempting seasonal dishes such as Roast fillet of Hake with warm beetroot, radish, asparagus, potato and chicory salad & rocket pesto - a colourful example that would be hard to resist in late spring. Atlantis Seafoods of Kilmore Quay supply much of the fresh fish while smoked fish (and other smoked foods) come from some of the best smokers, including Cork producers Frank Hederman of Belvelly Smokehouse, in Cobh and Anthony Creswell of Ummera Smokehouse, Timoleague.
Other mouthwatering brands name checked on menus include Jane Russell sausages from Kildare and Jack McCarthy’s ‘black pudding fit for a Queen’ (they’ll dine out on that in Kanturk for a good while yet!), as well as unusual dairy products like Toonsbridge buffalo mozzarella, from Macroom, Co Cork.
A lot of care goes into the The Purple Onion’s food, which is interesting and offers something different from other choices in the area. There may be some unusual dishes in season (grilled sardines, for example), also daily changing specials and desserts, and the early dinner menu is way more exciting than the average offering. There’s a separate children’s menu too, and a drinks list that demonstrates a consistent commitment to quality, citing highly regarded suppliers including Wines Direct, Didier Fiat, Galvins Wines & Spirits and Barry & Fitzwilliam. There are craft beers in the mix, of course, and regular wine ‘specials’ in the €18-20 range which represent excellent value for money.
This is a place with real character and individualism that comes across in every aspect of the dining experience, including the menu. Well worth a visit.
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