Restaurant review: The Wild Honey Inn, Co Clare

JUST as Muhammed Ali’s great physical beauty, charisma, intelligence and wit once helped to disguise a pitiless prize fighter determined to take the purse, the scale and magnificence of the Burren in Clare is so very breath-taking that sometimes you can’t see the wood from the trees.

Or more specifically the jewel-like wildflowers from the grey-flecked limestone that mantels the region in such a deeply mysterious way.

The Fabergé flora of the Burren has achieved what the peoples of Europe have struggled to do for millennia — they have found a way to share the same space. Very different plants usually found in very disparate areas grow side-by-side, an orchid complimenting a heather. 

Mountains avens, natives of sub-arctic and mountainous areas thrive alongside bloody cranesbill and the dense-flowered orchid more usually found in sun-baked Mediterranean regions. 

It is as if dogmatic Germans and devil-may-care Greeks became happy, supportive neighbours. Adding to the disquieting and challenging harmony plants ordinarily associated with acidic conditions like heathers grow enthusiastically on the limestone.

Though Spring’s overture — spring gentian, mountain avens, shrubby cinquefoil, early purple orchid and bloody cranesbill and, on the loftier terraces used by the Burren’s feral goats, hoary rock rose — has passed and the sugar-rich golds of Autumn begin to supplant glistening greens there is a sense of cyclical permanence, a sense of being almost beyond challenge that sits counterintuitively with the wildness of the place. 

It’s almost as if Heathcliff had found contentment. Despite that 23 of Ireland’s 27 orchid species can be found in the national park. 

The first to flower are the early purple orchid and the dense-flowered orchid, another is the self-pollinating bee orchid which leads us nicely enough the splendid Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna on the edge of the Burren.

Run by the much-travelled and honoured Kate Sweeney and Aidan McGrath the Wild Honey Inn has more gongs than Christy Moore has given sweaty-vest renditions of Lisdoonvarna. Aidan describes the cooking as serious but relaxed and as “modern bistro style” which, almost uniquely for a restaurant, undersells itself. 

It is one of those places that exudes purpose and seriousness without at all being fussy. It is a relaxed place because, like our unlikely Heathcliff, it seems contented in itself.

DW and I visited early on a Friday evening as the dining room was just beginning to fill up with hungry, thirsty Burren walkers. As the restaurant doesn’t take bookings the early bird usually gets a table.

DW opened with tomato, Toonsbridge Mozzarela with watermelon, basil roquette, aged balsamic and bread crisp. 

This variation on a contemporary standard easily passed muster, fresh and pungent but in minor key. It, however, suffered by comparison. 

My starter was really excellent. Smoked haddock risotto – undyed smoked haddock, carnaroli, Parmesan and olive oil all set off by a poached egg perched on top like a smart little hat tottering on a beehive hairdo at ladies’ day at the Galway Races. 

It had layers of taste and texture that worked wonderfully and reminded me of the layering that characterises a beautifully made Damascus gun barrel.

We both chose fish next. DW had turbot and, once again, the description fell short. 

It was described as turbot with purple potato Lyonnaise, cress salad, balsamic and tapenade but that hardly did it justice — it was almost like describing a Damascus gun barrel as a pipe made from twisted wires. 

It was a perfectly layered plate where every element bolstered the other. My hake — hake with green beans, violet artichoke, confit of tomato and a sardine dressing — was delicious and pushed beyond the sum of its parts by a sublime sardine dressing.

Desserts — poached apricots and vanilla pannacota and a sticky toffee pudding — were excellent as was the Steininger Gruner Veltliner Kamptal at €31.50.

This time of the year some of us get to see the quality of life other societies enjoy. As long as we have restaurants as wonderful as Wild Honey Inn we need not fear comparison with anyone — it is at least as good as any of its peers anywhere.

The Verdict

Food: 8.5/10

Service: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Drinks: 8.5/10

The Tab: Dinner for two, three courses, wine, a bottle of beer and coffee came to €125.80, tip extra.

How to: 5pm to 9pm six days, closed Tuesdays.

In a sentence:

Wonderful, real and cheering food in a place that offers accommodation as well — one for the bucket list.

The Wild Honey Inn, Kincora Road, Lisdoonvarna,  County Clare, 065 7074300, www.wildhoneyinn.com 


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