The Burren Storehouse opened earlier this year. It is strictly a casual dining spot where the menu changes daily.
THE Irish pub trade is struggling. A DCU study reported on in this newspaper in 2014 estimated that more than 1,000 pubs had closed since 2007, and as many as 1,000 more may close by 2024.
Of course rural Ireland in general is also suffering and has seen little of the benefits of the recent upturn in the economy. So what’s to be done?
Well one sensible approach it seems to me is that adopted by Peter and Birgitta Curtin.
Lisdoonvarna is known as a festival town but it is a long time since they had to build a special runway for Jackson Brown (“just to get him down”) as the song goes.
There is still the folk festival and the matchmaking festival in September (plus an LGBT version in October) but a rural pub needs customers every weekend.
The Roadside Tavern has been in Peter’s family for more than 150 years and a few years ago he began brewing his own beer — a stout, a blonde, and a red ale.
If you want to try the beers you’ll have to visit the pub and this is one of the joys of the place, the brewer behind the counter, the quality and freshness of the beer, and the fact that your money stays local rather than go to London or Amsterdam.
The Burren Smokehouse is run by Birgitta 100m away and this attracts around 40,000 visitors every year.
Yes her organic smoked salmon can be bought in Harrods and elsewhere but tasting it fresh from the smokehouse on some Burren Black Brownbread with a pint of Burren Red Ale and a bowl of chowder is an experience you won’t forget.
The wonderful texture and her light-touch smoking are key — it literally melts in the mouth and I had some at every meal during my two days in Lisdoonvarna.
A quick shout-out also to Ballinsheen House B&B where the breakfast buffet is significantly better than in most four- and five-star hotels, and of course I had Burren smoked salmon and St Tola Cheese on a bagel and herself had a smoked salmon omelette.
The Burren Storehouse opened earlier this year and is the Curtin’s new venture right next to the pub.
The room is large and (charmingly) basic in design — and it’s more an events venue than a restaurant — with a TV screen half the size of a tennis court.
This is strictly a casual dining spot but chef Viv Kelly has ambitions and the menu changes daily, depending on what he has sourced.
We began with a 10 inch pizza topped with Burren smoked salmon and capers which had a light crisp base and of course the wonderful flavours of the smoked salmon off-set by some juicy fat capers which we washed down with Burren Blonde Ale.
For main courses there was a choice of Flaggy Shore Mussels and Clams (from nearby Redbank Seafood), Doolin Wrasse Tempura, and Gleninagh Lamb.
The lamb came from the purpose-built charcoal grill and had good charring on the outside, a wonderful texture and fine sweet meaty flavours — the blackcurrant and balsamic reduction was good but there was perhaps a little too much of it.
The Tempura intrigued me as Wrasse is a fish mainly used for baiting lobster pots but it had a fine light texture and was offset well by spiced wedges and good home-made tartar sauce which had a kick of the sea from the addition of sea-spaghetti — foraged the day before by Birgitta apparently.
We finished with some creamy tiramisu which had an excellent kick of espresso and retired to the pub where a session was in full swing with at least eight musicians.
The wine list is short and sourced from Wines Direct but has one of my favourites on the list — Bergerie l’Hortus GSM (which cost us a very fair €32).
My high mark below for the drink is strongly influenced by quality of Peter’s beers.
The key to the enjoyment of our two days was the local — virtually everything we ate was from a 20-mile radius and care and thought had gone into it all.
Lisdoonvarna’s Wild Honey Inn and nearby Gregans Castle have a similar policy — this holistic approach and sense of place is key to developing rural Ireland I believe, other pubs and towns should follow suit.
Dinner for two including a shared pizza starter, two mains and a shared dessert along with two craft beers and one bottle of wine: €86 (excluding tip)
Burren Storehouse: Monday to Friday: 6pm-10pm; Saturday-Sunday: 3pm-10pm; Roadside Tavern: 12pm – 9pm
In a sentence: Creative casual dining and pub food.
Burren Storehouse and The Roadside Tavern “Kieran’s Kitchen”,
Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare.
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