Restaurant review: The Lifeboat Inn, Courtmacsherry

The Lifeboat Inn, Courtmacsherry, Co Cork; tel:023-8864656, www.lifeboatinn.ie

COURTMACSHERRY is an especially gorgeous little west Cork seaside haven but, equally, there’s a gritty, independent character to the place and a populace who have never quite embraced the more homegenised tropes of ‘Cead Míle Fáilte’ Ireland — a popular local bumper sticker advertises it as a ‘drinking village with a fishing problem’.

In August 2015, the sole surviving village shop finally closed, a familiar story of rural decline in 21st century Ireland. But fewer rural communities have the gumption to subsequently establish and operate their own community shop, as locals have been doing since June 2016.

When the recently closed Lifeboat Inn reopened earlier this year as a gastropub under Martin Buckley (Chef) and David O’Halloran (Front of House), it was further welcome evidence of local resilience.

On an exquisite mid-September Sunday, The Lifeboat Inn looks shipshape from without and we briefly consider dining in the waterfront garden directly across the road until My Heart’s Delight’s thermostat decides otherwise. The interior is spartan: tiled floor, some unremarkable paintings, vases, lamps; up-market culinary tomes make an advance statement on the mantle of an unlit fireplace. Seating is generic bar furniture: low tables and stools in a less-than-orderly clatter, as if someone was still unloading them from a van. A windowless ‘dining room’ to the rear has proper chairs and tables with place settings but, on this glorious day, is a gloomy retreat.

The Progeny find a seat directly in front of the TV on the far side of the bar. High shelves running behind the wall-mounted TV are bare save two random dusty beer bottles and a TV cable.

Dark patches on the sun-bleached wall are ghostly outlines of the previous inhabitant’s paraphenalia, never replaced. On a menu otherwise aimed squarely at the middle market, Roast Pigeon, Butternut Squash Risotto, Sage, Balsamic stands out.

The breast is well-cooked, tender and flavoursome, but would be better off sliced to serve and then rested for my initial incision yields a puddle of vermillion meat juices, overly visceral for more sensitive diners.

The risotto is creamy, al dente rice but instead of an expected grating of Parmigiano, the kitchen appears to have added factory processed cheddar, a usage that is, frankly, bizarre, akin to making champagne mimosa with pricey Bollinger and topping it off with cheap orange cordial.

Balsamic only further sweetens a too-saccharin dish, begging to be challenged. Imported King prawns with chilli, garlic and lemon are dull, heavy, no finesse at all; abundantly available fresh local prawns would instantly transform this dish.

Texture and consistency of Atlantic Seafood Chowder is fine but an acrid smokiness is overpowering. Mains don’t fare much better.

Beer batter on cod is crisp, golden and tasty but fish is cooked to near-mush. Confit duck leg is leathery on the outside and, though tender within, lacks depth of flavour.

Sauteed potatoes are bland and soggy, no crispness, French beans don’t fare much better. La Daughter’s tender homemade chicken goujons are fast becoming valuable currency amongst our disappointed party.

Desserts are uninspiring and overly sweet. The Progeny have been anticipating caramel ice cream listed as partnering Warm Chocolate Pudding but consume without enthusiasm.

“That was Vanilla, not Caramel,” says No 2 Son. “Oh, yes,” says a waiter. “They had run out. I suppose I should have said it to you.” Yes, she should have.

It is insulting to gloss over a substitute ingredient or missing element of a dish and simply hope the customer won’t notice.

I am all too aware of the impact of criticism on a fledgling business but unlike other restaurant reviewers, we in the Irish Examiner pay for our own meals, further heightening a sense of responsibility to readers and, speaking personally, it really grates to drop so much on such substandard fare, especially when I know this team has the chops to do infinitely better. (Martin has cooked in Chapter One, The Cliff Townhouse and two-Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, in London; David is equally well qualified.)

And there’s the rub, with an awful lot more effort and a re-stocked ‘local larder’, they could turn the whole show around and give Courtmac’ the type of restaurant it really deserves..

the tab

€126 (excluding tip, including wine and drinks)

The Verdict

  • Food: 4.5/10
  • Service: 6.5/10
  • Value: 5/10 (8.5/10 if standards set were met)
  • Atmosphere: 6/10


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