The Fatted Calf, Church Street, Athlone, Co Westmeath,
HAVE not always been kind to my home town.
But it’s not just me, Athlone is a difficult place to love.
Before the bypass you could be stuck for hours on your way to the promised land (ie, Galway).
After the bypass, some planning genius allowed two new shopping centres which resulted in the near-death of the main street and the actual death of the old shopping centre which is now a desolate heap of concrete scowling at visitors that enter the town from the east.
From the west you will fare better thanks to the town’s finest feature, the broad, majestic Shannon.
But most of the town still turns its back to the river leaving the riverside to be used as a car park rather than for cafés and promenades.
And yet I do have love for the town that reared me — the fat greasy chips in the Genoa Café, the school visits to the Castle, the beautiful 1930’s modernist architecture of the Ritz Cinema (cruelly demolished in the 1990s), Burgess’ Dept Store, Seán’s Bar, the Liturgical Bookbinders, Loaves and Fishes on Mardyke St, Kin Khao Thai and The Left Bank Bistro.
Sadly there will be no fatted calf killed for me on my next visit after that intro, but that’s OK — Feargal and Fiona O’Donnell’s Fatted Calf has had a quirky modern townie makeover.
The Fatted Calf used to be a wondrous gastro-pub in the lakeside village of Glasson ten minutes away but when the lease ran its course the O’Donnells and their head chef Dee Adamson (I was in school with her husband!) moved into town to open a restaurant proper.
This is a Midlands town so the menu is traditional but determined to be creative.
Sourcing is prominent and frequently local with even vegetable suppliers named on the menu along with more famous producers such as Mossfield Organic and Burren Smokehouse.
A value two-course supper menu for €25 is available Tuesday-Thursday and as an early bird, but we opted for the à la carte as my guest needed to be minded a little after a miserable wet day at the Ploughing Championships.
Excellent crusty breads with a fine punchy tapenade whet our appetites nicely and were followed by two nigh-on perfect starters. Lisduff Black Pudding breaded ‘bonbons’ came topped with a smear of honey grain mustard aioli and confit egg yolk for dipping — plus bonus pork crackling.
My terrine of Horan’s smoked ham hock and heritage potato managed to be salty and sweet, meaty yet yielding — possibly the best ham hock terrine I’ve ever tasted.
The Fatted Calf prides itself on its meat so steak was compulsory. Char-grilled 10oz Sirloin of John Stone 30-day dry-aged beef (€28) was exceptionally tender and served with onion rings, homemade horseradish, spiced bone marrow and tarragon sauce.
I prefer a slightly firmer texture to bring out the beef flavour but I also know I’m in the minority.
The sauce, vegetables and chips were excellent but I would drop the Balsamic reduction as I found it interfered (again perhaps I’m out of step).
The tasting plate of Black Island Atlantic Lamb with a confit fillet, carved loin, rosemary fondant and lemon mint crumb for €26 was the star dish of the night — beautifully cooked and plated and some of the best lamb I’ve had all year.
The drinks list includes local beers and a good number of wine choices under €30 with 20 wines by the glass.
Elias Mora Semi-Crianza from fashionable Toro was worth €35 and its dark fruits knitted in nicely with our meaty choices.
Affogato with excellent Bell Lane coffee (Mullingar) and a Kilbeggan Oats apple and blackberry crumble finished off the meal along with a glass of Grahams Tawny Port for a meagre €5.
Dee and Feargal’s cooking shows a lot of flair but I would love to see them push harder — why let Galway get all the Connacht credit?
Then again maybe Thomas Wolf was right, ‘you can’t go home again’.
Dinner for two including starters, mains and dessert each plus a bottle of sparkling water, a bottle of Spanish Toro and a glass of dessert wine cost €131.85
How To: Lunch Tuesday to Saturday: 12.30pm to 3pm; Dinner Tuesday to Saturday: 5.30pm to 9pm
In a sentence: A traditional menu cooked with imagination and flair, an enjoyable meal but I would love to see this talented kitchen push itself even further!
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