Restaurant review: Knox & Shell’s Café in Sligo

Joe McNamee gives the verdict on two Sligo eateries. 

Knox, 32 O’Connell Street, Sligo. Tel: 071-9141575; www.knoxsligo.ie              

Shell’s Café, Strandhill, Sligo. Tel: 071-9122938; www.shellscafe.com    

THE ‘Foleys’ are long overdue a skite, most especially as Chanson Foley has finally joined the rest of us in the Half-Century Club. After considering the options, he says ‘Do you know, I’ve never been to Sligo.’

We are north-west bound: Captain Foley (helmsman, as always); Gambler Foley (poker/whiskey attaché); Chanson Foley (greatest of the yet-to-be-discovered great Irish tenors) and myself, An Bolg Foley (quartermaster, affairs of the belly).

Though the rest of the country basks in a heatwave, Sligo remains under silky grey cloud yet it bothers us not a jot, entranced as we are by her verdant hinterland and proud strutting mountains. We are staying directly across from the renowned Isle of Inisfree, on Lough Gill, immortalised by the great WB himself, this evening shrouded in ethereal gloaming mist.

As we head into town, cloud is but a flimsy gauze for brilliant evening sun and Sligo is glowing as we arrive at Knox. A ‘terrace garden’ of fake plastic grass and cheap garden furniture creates an underwhelming first impression but a softly lit wood-panelled interior offers the welcoming cosiness of a log cabin. We kick off with excellent Kinnegar craft beers from neighbouring Donegal and order a silky Godello (Crego e Monaguillo, 2013 Monterrei) with floral peachy notes and a fruity Monastrell (Juan Gil 4 Mesas, 2013 Jumilla) with an elegant vanilla finish, along with a clatter of dishes from ‘sea’, ‘field’ (meat) and ‘ground’ (vegetarian).

Goat’s Cheese, Fig, Pear, Seeded Nut Brittle is sweet, tangy whipped goats cheese, adding velvety unctuousness to deliciously cloying fig. Tender Squid melts in the mouth, Lemon and Lime aioli sharpens Cajun spice flavours. Sweetness of fresh West Coast Crab is accentuated with vanilla while sumptuous Pan-seared scallops come with chargrilled garden vegetables.

Pan-fried hake with leek, spring onion and horseradish cake, is a little overdone by the time we get to it and slow-roast pork belly is a tad dry, but black pudding croquettes on top are crisp and savoury, apple, carrot and anise offer tart-sweet contrast.

Salty-sweet crispy shred duck is partnered with an excellent middle eastern mezze selection while umami-rich Beef short rib, slides off the bone, onto an earthy fennel-rich celeriac puree, redcurrant in the upper register.

Very contented cats, we kick back and loosen the collective belt a notch or three. Bar one or two slight misfires our only possible complaint about the wonderful fare concerns the system of delivery: dishes are fired out as they are ready in no particular order at all so, for example, hake follows beef and two or three tapas might arrive simultaneously, rather detracting from each dish’s individual moment to shine in the spotlight. In fine form, Four Fearless Foleys head off into the night for an extended crack at Thomas Connolly’s splendid gin menu.

There are several seaside resorts around the country that have found redemption through surfing, the very sport that drew Dubliner Jane Chambers and partner South African Myles Lamberth Westwards. Having scoured the world for a suitable location to open their dream beachside café, they found it in Strandhill and their presence here over the last seven years has played a huge part in the village’s revival. At 11am and there is a 35-minute queue for seats inside but Four Fragile Foleys procure an outdoor berth, thankful for the faint breeze and continuing cloud cover, freshly-squeezed juices restoring some modicum of life. Gambler Foley opts for a traditional and handsome fry. Chanson Foley goes for the House Burger, a fearsome meat patty topped with cheddar and bacon, served with lovely triple-cooked chips. Captain Foley attempts to make peace with his body ordering tasty Asian-style Teriyaki salmon fillet atop a warm noodle salad.

Seeking my inner hipster, I set about smashed avocado on toast, bathed in the golden viscous yolks of poached eggs, with crispy bacon adding salty sinful texture. Bodies restored by splendid fare, secure in the knowledge that brains should catch up later, we sit back with decent coffees, just as a curious sun finds a slight gap in the clouds. The healing has begun. (To be continued.)

Knox

The Tab

€195 (excluding tip)

How to

Tuesday/Wednesday: 9am-5pm; Thursday to Saturday: 9am-5pm, 6pm-10pm; Sunday: 10am-5pm

The Verdict

Food: 8/10

Service: 8.5/10

Value: 8/10

Atmosphere: 7.5/10

Shell’s Café 

The tab

€60.35 (excluding tip)

How to

Daily, seven days a week, 9am-6pm

The Verdict

Food: 8/10

Service: 8.5/10

Value: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8.5/10

Tagline: Many of Sligo’s myriad treasures are now increasingly to be found on the plate



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