Situated in the heart of the Burren in 'Ireland's longest village', on the coast road between Doolin and Ballyvaughan and opposite the well known O’Donoghue’s pub, Vasco is an all-day café-restaurant and deli. But that is not all - it's also an eco-adventure centre offering route maps for cyclists and hikers, information on local horse-riding, surfing and climbing, storage lockers, shower and drying facilities, bike repair kits, and an activity booking service.
The café is bright, modern and stylish, with a smart-casual vibe and plenty of buzz brought by families with lots of children. There's a cosy stove for chilly days and, in fine weather, tables on a sunny patio area at the back are lovely, looking onto fields, sea and the Aran Islands.
It's owned and run by Ross and Karen Quinn (head chef and front of house, respectively) who have lived and worked in Europe, they speak fluent French and German and some Spanish and Italian, which will be welcome news for the many European visitors who visit the Burren.
The Quinns have also travelled through Asia, South and Central America and North Africa, studying and enjoying their cuisines, and it shows in the eclectic range of foods served here.
Their love of exotic dishes from countries they have visited is exciting and, while there is a particular emphasis on Mediterranean style foods and unique flavours, they are keen supporters of local foods.
As well as Burren beef and lamb, organic vegetables and the fresh fish and seafood that is so good and plentiful along the west coast, goats are a particular feature of the area.
Although most often experienced through the local cheeses, the goat meat is also sometimes found on menus – and here, unusually, you might be offered organic kid cutlets with tzatziki, or a Caribbean goat curry with black beans and baked wild rice...
Daily-changing blackboard menus vary according to availability from local suppliers, but typical light dishes include soups (eg an ‘Aran to Burren’, fish & seafood soup); crostini (crab, perhaps) on home-baked sourdough; local farmhouse cheese and vegetarian antipasti platters; flatbreads, with St Tola goats’ cheese or middle Eastern-style Burren lamb.
More substantial meals include a Seafood Feast for two (with lobster, mussels, crayfish, crab – both claws and meat – and three types of clams and periwinkles); Burren lamb and beef (Tangier style, and slow-braised hotpot respectively); and fresh wild fish simply served ‘a la plancha’ - mackerel/sardines, brill, ling, lemon sole, ray, hake, haddock, and plaice are all possibilities, grilled and drizzled with olive oil and lemon.
But you don’t have to have a full meal to enjoy the Vasco experience – many visitors just drop in for coffee and a freshly baked scone, cake or dessert - lemon drizzle cake, gooey chocolate-banana bread, baked rhubarb cheese cake, or plum and apple crumble from the Quinn family garden are all favourites.
Prices range from about €5.50 for soup served with a doorstep of home-baked bread, to €17.95 for main courses (or more for some, eg the Seafood Feast). The value is good for the high quality offered, and some dishes are offered in two sizes.
Vasco Deli, next to the café, is a handy place to pick up a picnic. Here they sell what is on offer in the restaurant to take away, as well as gourmet sandwiches, freshly baked bread and cakes, homemade jams (banana, damson) and chutneys as well as local cheeses and wines from small, mainly European vineyards.
Many of the wines are organic and all are imported directly by Vasco, who also offer their specially blended teas and coffees.