Renowned for its brightly coloured streetscape and rich variety of cultural activities, this picturesque village on the Beara Way deserves a mindfully operated restaurant of character - and visitors are very pleasantly surprised when they find this delightful family-run bistro and gallery.
Run by chef Rhonwen Lewis, her mum and dad Caroline and Tony Lowes, and three of her siblings, it's a real family project with its heart in the community - and, unlike the many seasonal restaurants in West Cork, Rhonwen's plans to stay open for weekends through the winter, even offering a complimentary glass of hot punch over Christmas and New Year, "both alcoholic and non-alcoholic!"
A welcoming reception counter with fresh flowers, newspapers to browse and a blackboard proclaiming the day's specials sets a warm and friendly ambience and there's a down top earth tone to the simple, chunky furniture.
Decor is dead simple, with feature walls in warm red brick and the odd plant offsetting plain paintwork - making a perfect backdrop for stunning scenic work by local photographers (which are for sale) and - in the back room - a unique collection of works on permanent loan from local artists.
And not just any old artworks, but examples from the early years of sought-after artists who chose to live the area: Danny Osbourne, whose sculpture of Oscar Wilde is in Dublin’s Merrion Square; John Kingerley, who has been collected by both Bill and Hillary Clinton (separately!); also Cormac Boydell, Tim Goulding, and - perhaps most fascinating of all - the late Michael Sheehan, a primitive painter who began painting from memory when he returned to his homeland of Beara at the age of 82.
But this covetable collection of artworks in no way distracts from the good food served here. Aiming to offer quality with affordability, Rhonwen sources most of her main ingredients locally or from neighbouring counties; some, such as Milleens cheese from just up the road, are famous, while others - the buffalo 'grazed at the base of the nearby Slieve Miskish Mountains', for example - will come as a delightful surprise.
Breads baked daily by Rhonwen's mother, Caroline, include organic brown and white loaves, house baguettes for making thick crusty garlic bread, fluffy baps, and flat rosemary and tomato bread which is served with three different hummus dips as a starter.
Menus change with the seasons but the principles of local sourcing are always in place, whether it's a Sunday roast of free range pork from a nearby farm, fish just in from Castletownbere for the chowder and fish & chips, or buffalo burgers topped with Milleens cheese - and the daily specials menu reflects the same philosophy.
Popular dishes that also suit winter menus include mussels from nearby Cleanderry Harbour (a Special Area of Conservation, known for its clean water). Also, no doubt, some of the dishes Rhonwen creates for for vegetarians, vegans, and coeliacs will be carried on into the colder months, including 'Rhonwen’s leek custard', a vegetarian speciality of creamy leek, herb and tomato sauce layered with hazelnuts in a home-baked breadcrumb crumble...
Children are very welcome, and the real food offered for them includes simple pasta dishes, pan-fried free range chicken goujons, local sausages and mash, or the ‘gruffalo burger’, with hand-cut chips.
To finish, a traditional sweet trolley offers irresistible homemade indulgences such as tarte tatin ('Rhonwen’s upside-down apple pie') and an excellent house rendition of tiramisu.
The mainly French wine list is a work in progress but you may always expect to find some interesting bottles - and beer drinkers will be delighted to find craft beers from the excellent Eight Degrees Brewing range, made in Mitchelstown. "As far as we know no one else on the Beara is offering craft beers and they are proving very very popular", says Tony.
"All of them are very good, and the lager in particular is outstanding." (There seems to general agreement about that, as the lager achieved two golds in the 2014 Great Taste Awards.) The same attention to quality also extends to non-alcoholic drinks, including Con Traas's sparkling apple juice from the Tipperary Apple Farm and coffee that is freshly ground on demand.
Attractive prices were part of the plan at Rhonwen's from the outset and, with starters from €4.50 to €9.50 and main courses very moderately priced between €12.50 to €14.50, they've certainly achieved that.
The sunny back garden is a pleasant spot to relax on a sunny afternoon and, regardless of the weather or season, Rhonwen’s Eyeries Bistro will be a very good place to be - you'll be glad you found it.