O’Donovan’s is an off-site find, it has no website and relies on word of mouth.
THERE may be someone in East Cork pouring over menu ideas, food, wine and staff costs, maybe even checking out Nama premises. They may be fine polishing the theories on the very fine margins in the restaurant business. They, full of optimism and determination, may even have gone as far as looking at table wear and cutlery options, menu design and all of the other essential, caressing little details that makes a good restaurant and a viable business.
Often, there is a memory of a magnificent meal — San Sebastian maybe? — the one that if they could only reproduce without breaking the bank — success would be more or less assured.
Hopefully they have a calculator standing sentry between themselves and their dreams, because knowing how to add things up — or better again, how to make them add up — is at least as important as being able to cook.
This hopeful person probably has shelves of cookery books and has watched Raymond, Rick and, if they are of a certain disposition and possibly gender, the late and almost unique Keith, umpteen times. They have most certainly done a very expensive cookery course, possibly through Spanish or Catalan.
If, at this point I can be so very presumptuous as to rain on someone’s parade, may I suggest that if they plan to open this restaurant in Midleton that they go back to the drawing board.
The town already has a good number of fine restaurants and unless you’re prepared for the kind of ceaseless competition that keeps restaurateurs in towns like Kinsale, Kenmare and say Dingle awake at night — irra go on, be honest about it — then it might be best to seek greener, quieter pastures elsewhere.
Midleton has the very good Farmgate, the excellent Raymond’s, the wonderful Sage and the town’s venerable Finin’s has a loyal following too.
And then there’s O’Donovan’s. I must concede I’d not known much about it until a local person poked me gently in the ribs for ignoring it. Maybe this is because the restaurant does not run a website, one with beautifully styled pictures to lure diners, but it is certainly hiding its light under a bushel. And it just shows the limitations a restaurant imposes on itself if it chooses not to run a googleable site. O’Donovan’s is as good as any restaurant in the region and far better than a great number. I was delighted that it was recommended and am happy to recommend it highly.
The pretty extensive menu offered nine starters, nine main courses and as many desserts. The dreamer developing a menu may decide to offer as many options, but they will have set a very high standard for their enterprise if they can match these. There was nothing radical, nothing to frighten the horses, but every line of the menu suggested substance and integrity and a recognition of why so many dishes have become standards in our culture.
DW opened with baked Ardsallagh goat’s cheese, black olive tapanade on puff pastry with a blueberry and rosemary dressing. This is a variation of one of the default starters of our time but this one was very, very good. My terrine of pheasant with apricot and pistachios — why do those words bring the phrase “man the barricades” to mind? — was top class. Texture, depth of flavour, colour and even scent reminded me of why I think we should all eat more game.
DW chose baked pork steak en croûte with pistachios, apple and a mustard sauce, not a crumb survived. I enjoyed the finest plate of lamb I’ve had in a long, long time. Flavoursome, tender and very generous. Top class and not often matched. Desserts — pannacotta and bread and butter pud — more than kept their end of the bargain. We drank an Australian red — Jip Jip Rocks — and would be more than pleased to repeat the experience.
O’Donovan’s was an unexpected pleasure and one that is very easy to recommend — even for a town with so many attractive options.
Dinner for two, three courses with wine, Irish coffee and tea came to €120, tip extra.