Obsession to return

Alife lived without an obsession may seem a calm, balanced thing but it’s hard not to think the converse is also true.

A life without one looks an empty-bucket, shadowy, wasted passage to me. Breathing, digesting, and occasionally reproducing for three score and ten without an irrational passion is an entirely predictable, pointless nil-all draw. Why bother?

Some people jump out of planes with nothing more than a modified pillow between them and the prospect of returning to Earth as raspberry yoghurt. Others climb frozen, oxygen-scarce mountains for no reason other than their towering presence. This particular obsession has, in recent weeks, cost at least 10 lives on Everest. The uncertainty about the toll remains because, even in equal-opportunities 2012, the loss of a sherpa is not considered the calamity represented by the death of a great white climber.

Then there’s the pastel-coloured passion — golf — and the greatest, most enriching, and at the same time crush-ing obsessions of all: Sex and money.

One of my relatively harmless, fuddy-duddy ones involves driving all around the country with carloads of gear — all of it more convincing because it is far more expensive than perfectly good alternatives. The objective of this damp-cargo Circuit of Ireland is to place a tiny scrap of dyed feathers and deer hair on the nose of a feeding trout, fool the spotty dream-thing, breath deeply, and pass sigh of deep satisfaction. Yes, obsessions can be irrational but they sometimes have very cheering fringe benefits. One recent Midlands foray ended with a visit to chef/proprietor Michael Brooks’s pretty and very good Glasson Village Restaurant.

Glasson, just up the road from Athlone, is one of those places that seems almost non-Irish in the best possible way. It’s neat and clean, no rubbish or rotting yards. The gardens and houses speak of self-confidence and self-respect as well as a communal spirit more noted by its absence than presence in far too many Irish towns and villages. The Glasson Village Restaurant fits perfectly into this scheme of things as it’s chocolate-box pretty.

Opened 26 years ago in a former RIC barracks, Brooks uses the French classic tradition to get the very best out of good Irish produce, especially fish.

I was joined by fellow spotted-fish obsessive BF who started with what looked a very crisp and tasty mixed salad with corned beef, melon, candied walnuts, rocket, and Parmesan shavings-orange dressing. It was a tad more complex than some of the salads offered at other troutland venues and it was well worth the effort. My opener was a lovely, creamy, cassoulet of seafood. Lots of fish and shellfish and a very nice white wine sauce. Simple but very easy to over-egg. However, this dish brought the elements together without drowning the individuality of any. Excellent.

We both followed with a fresh vegetable and tomato soup which was precisely the right weight for an intermediary course. BF chose lamb cutlets and got a fine plate of good, fatty, crispy meat and vegetables. No stellar heights but just very good, professional cooking aimed at whetting an appetite.

I chose my main course poorly. It was lovely but far too like my starter. A shell fish linguine — mussels, scallops and prawns in a dill and shellfish sauce. It was top class but I wasted an opportunity.

Desserts were a chocolate cheesecake and a selection of ice cream, one nicer than the other.

The wine, Château Figeac Saint-Émilion, was wonderful and rounded off one of those lovely meals in good company that would make anyone, even a grey, utterly reliable non-obsessive, glad to be alive.

The menu on the restaurant website emphasises game and as our visit was at the wrong end of the calendar for pheasant, wild duck, or wild venison I may have to develop another obsession — one that will take me back to Glasson when the trout season is closed. Thankfully, there’s no need... I have one already.

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