I recently travelled to Clare with the intention of visiting a restaurant that has been on my dining bucket list for quite a while now. Unfortunately the establishment in question doesn’t take reservations but during a quick phone call to them the week before I intended to travel, the owners reassured me that there should be no problem securing a table on my chosen date by just turning up. I duly booked myself a nearby hotel for the night and was really looking forward to my trip to the Banner County.
After a thoroughly enjoyable day spent sightseeing around Ennis, Lisdoonvarna and the Cliffs of Moher, I met up with a friend who lives close by and together we made our way to the restaurant, only to find that it had been taken over for a private party and wasn’t open to the general public that night. My disappointment was palpable – and if I’m being honest, I was also more than a little irritated as my trip to Clare had centred on dining there. I understand that there are a myriad of reasons why some restaurants don’t take reservations and that ‘no-shows’ are the scourge of the industry but what about genuine food-loving travellers? There are so many people who are prepared to literally go that extra mile for good food and to me, a blanket ‘no-reservations’ policy seems ridiculously inflexible.
To make matters worse, Mother Nature decided to join me in my thunderous mood and heavy sheets of rain started falling down, drenching us to the skin as we dashed for shelter inside my car.
As I didn’t want my culinary excursion to Clare to be wasted, I quickly got my phone out and rang a couple of other local restaurants with reputations for serving decent food. I was concerned that our last minute requests at the height of the tourist season would be unsuccessful but luckily, Vaughan’s Anchor Inn, which was recently named in the 2016 Michelin Eating Out in Pubs guide for the UK and Ireland, agreed to squeeze us in. Half an hour later we rolled up in front of this popular family-run bar/restaurant, located in the pretty fishing village of Liscannor, looking forward to our meal.
The warm and inviting atmosphere in Vaughan’s immediately lifted my mood and as we walked through the comfortable front bar with its olde worlde charm to the restaurant located at the back of the premises, I realised that events had definitely taken a turn for the better. Although it was early in the evening and dinner service had only just commenced, the restaurant was already busy with diners tucking into impressive looking seafood platters. Head Chef Denis Vaughan is determined to use as much local produce as possible, and insists that all the fish used is fresh and from Irish waters. Menus change regularly to reflect what is available on any given day.
After a restorative gin and tonic at the bar, we were shown to our seats in the wood-panelled dining room and, with a soundtrack of rousing shanty songs playing in the background, we examined the menu and decided on what to order. As you would expect, given its location, seafood is very much to the fore on the menu but there are also loads of dishes that would satisfy meat lovers.
Breads were first to arrive and included Brown Soda Bread, White Bread and a delicious Banana Bread, all of which had been made in house. They were quickly followed by an amuse-bouche of Turnip Soup which in reality was made from swede – a hugely underrated vegetable not often seen on restaurant menus. I love its earthy sweetness and have always found its natural peppery character irresistible.
In addition to our starters we decided to try the Galway Oysters by the half dozen with a Shallot and Balsamic Vinegar dressing (€12.95). The key to a good oyster is freshness and these were superbly fresh with a clean taste of the sea and a lovely plump, silky texture. The accompanying dressing was simple but well conceived as it accentuated the natural sweetness of the oysters without masking their unique flavour.
My starter of Sean Digger’s Roasted Liscannor Lobster, Crispy Suckling Pig, Tomato and Pepper Stew, Tomato & Seaweed Dashi (€13.95) was a luxurious play on the surf ‘n’ turf theme and one that pleased on a number of levels. The dish was beautifully presented with a generous amount of lobster meat and a single lobster claw sitting on the flavoursome tomato based pepper stew. The addition of the expertly cooked pork belly prevented the dish from seeming too sweet whilst the Japanese inspired seaweed dashi brought everything together perfectly. This was clever cooking.
My companion’s Roasted Organic Inagh Goat’s Cheese, Sesame Seeds, Seafood Wild Mushroom and Balsamic, Aubergine Jam (€8.95) was a hearty dish comprised of a sizeable disc of soft, creamy goat’s cheese that married well against the rich ‘meatiness’ of the sautéed mushrooms and unctuously sticky aubergine jam. A sprinkling of sesame seeds on top of the cheese added some toasty nuttiness and textural contrast to the dish.
I toyed with ordering another seafood dish for my main course but found the lure of the Beef Dripping Chips which accompanied the John Stone 9oz Beef Fillet (€29.95) impossible to resist. Along with the chips, the steak was served with Wild Mushrooms, Onions Rings and either a Bordelaise or Béarnaise Sauce. I opted for the latter which was served on the side and into which I happily dunked each chip in between mouthfuls of the delightfully tender fillet beef which was cooked medium-rare as I had requested. Self restraint had long flown out the window so I also ordered a side of Mac and Cheese (€4.95) which was well flavoured, having been made with a punchy mature cheddar.
The other main, Turbot with Cauliflower & Broccoli (€26.95) was an absolutely stunning dish. Turbot is a meaty fish and can stand up well against other assertive flavours but here it was delicately paired with cauliflower which appeared as a ‘steak’ and also as a velvety smooth purée. Steamed broccoli, simply treated, completed the dish.
We finished our meal with a couple of excellent desserts. I quickly decided on the Passion Fruit Soufflé with Coconut Ice-Cream (€8.45) which I was warned would take 15 minutes to arrive as it was cooked to order. This did not present a problem and I was happy to wait. It arrived to the table standing proud. Make no mistakes, soufflés are hard to perfect, but this was faultless – light and airy and full of the tropical flavour passion fruit.
Across the table the Snickers-inspired Chocolate & Peanut Slice & Popcorn Sorbet (€8.45) was also going down a treat and, although a rich end to the meal, was finished off without any trouble.
I loved my meal in Vaughan’s Anchor Inn. Denis Vaughan’s food is simply wonderful and you can really feel the sense of pride he has in each dish that leaves his kitchen. Service throughout the meal was perfectly pitched and we felt that there was a real team approach to ensuring that each and every guest has an experience that they will enjoy. Our evening may have had an inauspicious start but it finished on a high and we wandered back out into the night with full bellies and happy hearts.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.