Timoleague, an ancient village overlooking the beautiful Argideen estuary, seems a challenged place on a still dark, early spring evening.
Like many places of its ilk there seems far too many buildings in a deep hibernation, standing silent in shadows like detached wallflowers at a dance unable to do anything but watch the world slide by.
Their cold emptiness is amplified by the buildings around that glow with warmth and light, bright with the business of living.
There are the mandatory closed bars running to seed far more quickly than might have been expected.
There are of course a few open for business but with hardly enough customers to circle a card table.
Like so much of rural Ireland, far, far too much of rural Ireland really, the village appears caught in a bear hug that threatens to squeeze the life out it.
Even in the face of inexorable urbanisation, and as the economy recovers, it is far more important than we may yet realise to sustain communities that have clung to their little patch of rural Ireland through the challenges of centuries.
Maybe it’s time to consider redirecting some of the huge resources directed at the countryside through the Common Agricultural Policy to a far wider base of recipients? If we don’t we may be heading for, and unintentionally funding, a new kind of feudalism.
Against this background it seems an act of particular heroism to open a food-and-drink business, especially as a once-excellent restaurant stands like a warning from the Gods, closed and shuttered just next door, but that is what Michelle O’Mahony and Gavin Moore have done.
They serve local, artisan produce, craft beers, gourmet coffees and teas and hope to take advantage of the potential offered by the nearby Wild Atlantic Way, an admirable project that may yet prove a catalyst for sustainable businesses along our western seaboard.
The food business, or more accurately the foodie business, has more than its fair share of fantasists, the kind of people who imagine themselves an undiscovered Heston and wonder every day if this is the day the Frenchman with the stars will recognise their unique achievements.
At the other end of the spectrum stands the majority, a pragmatic and sensible bunch who cut their cloth to their measure.
They know that Heston’s salmon poached in a liquorice gel, artichoke, vanilla mayonnaise and golden trout roe might be a wonderful dish but don’t see it as an answer to the particular conundrum they face every day. They tilt at very different windmills.
And so it is at the lovely, purring and very welcoming Monk’s Lane, a place alive and uplifting in that mercurial way that underpins nearly all good restaurants or bars.
It has that indefinable quality; the place was so alive you’re happy just to arrive even if you don’t know why. And nothing happened later to change that opinion, first impressions are indeed everything.
The menu is simple, no pyrotechnics or clumsy shotgun marriages combining almost incompatible ingredients.
If you fancy something reviving and light after a day marching along the WAW there are plenty of options. If you want your dinner you won’t be disappointed either.
DW opened with focaccia with three dips, a simple, clean and neat starter that worked very well. I had smoked tuna with lemon aoili and toasted sesame seeds. It was another clean dish that did its job splendidly, it had a directness about it that outstripped its simplicity.
For her main course DW chose the homemade veggie burger that came with all the usual accompaniments. She enjoyed it, though I struggle with the idea of something as vague as a “veggie burger”.
For my main course I chose a steak — two of the specials which sounded lovely had run out — and it was grand altogether, nothing life-changing but absolutely enjoyable and easy to recommend. Desserts were a choice between three kinds of cake and they were lovely too.
The wine — an Italian red Salice Salentino €39 — was as pungent as a low tide but, as is usual in this country, it skewed the bill. Monk’s Lane is a lovely place to visit and eat. The menu is simple and pretty good value. The night we visited the place was full, long may that continue.
Dinner for two, three courses and wine came to €97.90, tip extra
In a sentence:
Pleasant, simple and satisfying, lovely atmosphere, well worth a visit.
15 Mill Street,
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved