Hidden Ireland: O’Brien’s Chop House, Lismore, Waterford
Everyone’s been to Dublin, right? And a strong number I would wager to the west of Ireland and Cork City. But who among you has been to Waterford?
I know not many as everytime I tell someone where I’m from they gaze back blankly and slightly perturbed until I explain that it’s next to Cork. Ah, Cork! But I am not from Cork, I am from Waterford. West Waterford to be precise.
A small county on the Atlantic, Waterford has so much going on. The ocean, mountains, woods, restaurants, pubs, artisan cheese, traditional music, a Gaeltacht (a native speaking area). Lots of great shellfish, seafood, beef & lamb from the mountains. Game, oyster farms, shoals of mackerel leaping out of the water in late summer. Seals, turtles, dolphins, we’ve got them all.
I am from Dungarvan a small coastal town in Waterford, set on a harbour with a backdrop of mountains (Irish mountains though you understand, our more petite versions). We have a very well known restaurant, The Tannery, brought to us by Paul Flynn. Londoners will know him from his time at 3 star Nico at Ninety, working as head chef for Nico Ladenis. More on the Tannery later. Today I am going to tell you about a little day trip that I had to a gorgeous nearby town called Lismore.
Lismore is set inland on the river Blackwater, overlooked by stunning Lismore castle owned by the Duke of Devonshire. It’s sleepy and local and I challenge anyone not to fall in love with it. O’Brien’s Chop House is a relatively recent arrival on the scene. Opened in July 2009 by Justin & Jenny Green of Ballyvolane House and set in an old pub with a gorgeous delapidated garden, delapidated in the very best way. I felt like I was home, at home in the Ireland I remember fondly of countryside and falling down houses, wild flowers and apple trees, and mildly manicured gardens.
The menu offers traditional Irish food. Devilled kidneys, pork chops, lamb shanks, hanger & sirloin steaks. It veers off course at times with dishes like gnocchi and Dungarvan mussels with lemongrass, ginger & coonut milk broth, reflecting the modern international nature of Irish cuisine, I suppose. Or perhaps, our modern international tastes and demands. Also the modern multi-cultural nature of our island. The meat is provided by the local butcher – McCarthy’s, who farm and butcher their own meat, they also have their own abbatoir.
We went for lunch, an old friend and I drove in the gorgeous sunshine, past fields a river and a castle, and arrived at O’Briens. It’s a cute little place, deceptively small at first it expands to a bigger dining room behind the traditional pub front and a lovely roomy garden. We chose the garden as the weather was gorgeous and the garden itself too hard to resist.
A quickie lunch menu was on offer, and you know how much I love these lunch deals, so we opted for this. Despite the heat, I opted for a spiced garlic & tomato soup, followed by oxtail stew with champ, and Jennifer opted for a caesar salad followed by gnocchi with asparagus & wild garlic cream. Some soda bread was delivered, both brown & white, and we both agreed that it was like being whisked back to your grandmother’s kitchen. The white soda was sweet and flaky, the brown malty and rich. The butter melted slowly in the afternoon sun, and we scooped it onto our slices of bread, requesting seconds, we liked it so much.
The starters arrived and I was reminded about the generosity of Irish portions. A very big soup was delivered, and I ate every bit. It was light, and nicely spiced with background garlic and a gentle heat. It coped well with my dunking of soda bread, which was good, as I did it a lot! Jen approved of her Caesar Salad which game with egg, which made it almost a lunch in itself. I wondered how we would fit our main course.
I also started to wonder about the sensibility of oxtail stew in this heat, but got over it quickly once I had the first bite of this rich hearty dish. Remnisent of childhood with sweet tender carrots, rich gravy, and oxtail falling off the bone, the champ was light and tingled with scallions. It was very, very good. The gnocchi looked great, creamy and rich too, but that’s how we Irish like our food, even in the sunshine. A nation of dairy farmers, you’ll find that dairy features heavily in our food.
Dessert delivered fresh and zingy lemon tart with brown bread ice cream and whipped cream and I opted for a late appetiser of rhubarb bellini. I make these a lot (except mine also include rose), these were different as the rhubarb was current season, and more green than pink with a pleasant tartness which worked very well with the sweet prosecco.
A lovely lunch devoured, we ventured home again, stopping before we left for some homemade “ribena”, chutney & blackcurrant jam. We spent a lovely couple of hours in gorgeous surroundings and I would heartily recommend it. The service was superb, the manager is ex Le Caprice, but fled London after 10 years there. I am on year 8/9 now, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would do the same. But then I remembered how much I love London. I fear I am destined to be torn.