Ashe’s Bar & Restaurant, Main Street, Dingle, Co Kerry - Tel: 066-9150989; ashesbar.ie
When you have a town, such as Dingle, boasting so many fine opportunities for putting on the nosebag, it can be hard enough to fit them all in.
And then there are the personal blind spots, those that simply slip below the radar altogether.
For me, Ashe’s is such a restaurant, despite all my visits to Dingle over the years.
Even tonight’s choice of venue came courtesy of a local-in-the-know, bailing out this poor hungry soul and his ailing family by wangling a last-minute booking over the course of the Dingle Food Festival, pretty much the busiest weekend in the town’s annual calendar. I know nothing and expect less: we are simply grateful to procure any seat at all.
Dingle is en fete and, having fulfilled my various professional engagements and sampled the
atmosphere, I enjoy a pair of pints with a fine comrade in one of my most favourite pubs, Moriarty’s. My appetite is nicely primed by the time I re-engage with My Heart’s Desire (MHD) and smaller progeny at Ashe’s.
The blissfully, boisterous bar is cheek-to-cheek, nose-to-nose with frolicsome festivalgoers, playing that uniquely Irish game of ‘Pub-Twister’, stray pint-bearing arms seeking passage through random bodies to ferry that next sup of porter to the gob. We do the sardine shimmy, sliding through the cheerful throng to our precious table.
Trawling through the seafood-heavy menu, No 2 Son is in epicurean heaven. Several of his particular passions — soup, chilli, mussels — come together in a great bowl of Steamed Glenbeigh Mussels with Red Thai Chilli Paste in a Coconut & Coriander Cream Broth. He sucks plump molluscs directly from the shell, a fine chilli kick draws beads of sweat to his lip, barely mollified by sweet coconut milk with bright coriander notes.
He is equally fond of crab claws and hits my plate with giddy abandon. The claws themselves are big bruisers, perfectly cooked, yielding tender succulent meat, ever so slightly carmelised after a brief flash in a hot pan, but, then again, I expect nothing less in a town where the fundamentals of cooking seafood are a seeming birthright. They rest in a sinful, glistening pool of melted, herbed garlic butter. The grace note is an apparently nondescript salad in the centre.
Ashe’s wouldn’t be the first to garnish a crab-plate with a little greenery but closer examination reveals a careful assemblage of crisp fresh lettuce, sweet cherry tomatoes, strings of spiralised raw carrot. A sublime dressing of green basil pesto resonates in garlicky harmony with the melted butter.
Crab claws have become ubiquitous — and rightly so, for this wonderful ingredient should be an integral part of any ‘national menu’ — but this take is an especially poised yet deceptively simple delivery of an elemental dish. Someone in the kitchen very much has my attention.
MHD and La Daughter have mildly gippy tummies. For LD, this triggers an order for goujons, tender chicken fried in delightfully crisp batter, that proves a great healer.
For MHD, the solution is Ballydavid Crab Trio: sweet, dressed crab, crispy breaded croquette and an exquisite, gossamer-light crab and prawn dumpling. More ‘cheffy’ than my claws, perhaps, yet nailed with similar aplomb.
Mind you, MHD’s gippy tummy is not so bad she can’t relish a portion of my beautifully baked fillet of Turbot, the class of ribsticking fare that has me grinning from ear to ear with pure unadulterated pleasure. Two firm fillets rest atop a silken, earthy-sweet puree of celeriac while a reprise of that wonderful garlic/herb butter sports plump, juicy prawns.
A Burgundy (Petit Chablis AC, Charly Nicolle, 2015) with crisp green apple notes is pleasant, though the fresh, light acidity falters a tad on the slopes of rich buttery sauces, suggesting we might have opted for something heftier from a decent and surprisingly extensive list.
A gippy tum never stopped La Daughter finishing on a sweet note so she and No 2 Son enjoy self-explanatory Chocolate Temptation while I conclude with espresso.
The finesse of fine dining may attract most critical attention but I am equally enamoured of what might be termed ‘Irish bistro’ style: casual, understated, produce-driven cooking; with fewer hiding places, it takes moxie and no little ability to succeed at the latter.
Having re-calibrated my radar, I’m delighted to report Ashe’s possess both in spades, another gem in Dingle’s box of culinary treasures.
€109.35 (excluding tip)
How to Lunch: 12pm-3pm daily; early bird: 5.30pm-6.30pm; dinner: 5.30pm- 9.30pm
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