Budd’s restaurant has all the potential to become another West Cork institution.
It doesn’t take much researching online to uncover the now-famous photo of those in attendance on a particular August night in Ballydehob, in 1998, when the Irish chapter of Slow Food Ireland was first founded, a most impressive roster indeed: Ballymaloe’s Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen, fish smoker Sally Barnes (Woodcock Smokery), Gubbeen’s Giana Ferguson and well-known cheesemaker Bill Hogan.
Also pictured is Annie Barry, the chef-proprietor of Annie’s, the once-renowned Ballydehob restaurant where the photo was taken. Oh, and former Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald is also in the line-up.
Annie’s was that kind of restaurant, where all manner of local and imported celebrities (President Mary Robinson, actor Kevin Costner, just two random examples) holidaying in West Cork wound up at some stage or another.
Diners would begin with a pint across the road in Levis’s pub where Annie would pop over to take dinner orders.
Pint finished, you’d then follow her back over to the restaurant for an inevitably splendid meal, all based on the best of West Cork produce.
However, some years later, Annie Barry’s beloved husband Dano died, and with a clutch of young children to rear, she could no longer keep the restaurant going.
Though many believed Julia and Nell Levis could possibly live forever, they too eventually passed on and when the economic crash hit, Ballydehob became, for a spell, a poster-child for rural recession with many a former drinker-diner experiencing a keen sense of loss while driving past the closed doors of the now-defunct social axis.
And then came the cavalry, riding over the hill.
Joe O’Leary, formerly the lead singer of late, lamented Cork band, Fred, took over the pub once run by his two great-aunts and set about breathing new life into an old institution, retaining the quirky charm yet also turning it into one of the finest small venues on the Irish music circuit.
And when Jamie and Emma Budd set up shop as Budd’s Restaurant, in 2015, the link, it seemed, was restored.
Naturally, we kick off with a couple of Kinsale Pale Ales in Levis’s before making the trip across the road.
The restaurant has altered since Annie’s days, the cosy low-ceilinged room now less formal, more casual, as befits a venture that begins serving breakfast first thing in the morning and continues right through to evening dinner.
The room is buzzing with locals and holidaymakers alike of all ages, shapes and sizes and each and every one is in fine fettle.
We share three starters.
First, a West Cork crab, avocado and preserved lemon salad looks as pretty on the plate as it tastes on the palate, a tian of good fresh crab left largely untouched, but the additions of Gubbeen bacon and grilled buffalo halloumi cheese, also good, are an indication that Budds’s will not be found wanting when it comes to emulating Annie’s legendary portion sizes of yore.
This is confirmed with the masala dosa, an Indian pancake with garam masala, potato, spinach, and coconut.
We’ve had it before as a wonderful lunch but as a starter it is alarmingly gargantuan. And though the duck terrine is a sound rendition if a little dry, ordering the third starter now seems most ambitious indeed.
Mrs Driver’s catch of the day, a firm pan-fried piece of brill, is precisely the kind of dish Annie Barry herself would have knocked out, minimal interference allowing excellent produce come to the fore.
My Wagyu beef burger comes with smoked Gubbeen cheese and black pudding and is served on a spelt brioche, with wasabi, sesame dip, seasonal salad, sea salt chips.
Even the description is a mouthful but the combo of cheese, burger, pudding and an oxymoronic dense brioche is just too much and I can’t even look at the chips.
No doubt, a grand repast for a hungry young man, ideally after a day’s toil, but simply too much for this bloated old beer warrior and it is as much as I can do to sample the admittedly very decent cakes the progeny scoff for dessert.
All in all, it is a splendid evening and though Budds is still coming to terms with the expectations of a mixed local and vacationing clientele, they are definitely doing the right thing, with all the potential to become another West Cork institution.
Now, back across the road to Levis’s for a digestif!
€145 (excluding tip)
Tagline: “Breathing new life into an old West Cork culinary institution.”
Budd’s, Main Street, Ballydehob, Co Cork, 028 25842
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