The Easter holidays have arrived and the entire nation appears consumed with a frantic migratory fever, a flock of swallows on crystal meth, itching to travel. And it seems we have had our fill of patriotic staycationing, because it’s off to the airport for the next flight to anywhere at all, just as long as it’s ‘somewhere other than here’.
We are going long haul. It’s County Cavan. You can fly to Barcelona in two and a half hours but Google Maps reckons it takes three hours and 45 minutes to drive to Cavan. Then again Google Maps has yet to find itself stuck at the ass end of a tractor crawling through Longford, with two precocious pre-teen girls surfing a sugar buzz in the back seat. After four-plus hours and a putative hip replacement, we finally hove to in The Olde Post Inn (TOPI) car park.
The healing balm of its ambience is instantaneous, for the converted former post office is beyond picture-postcard-perfect, including two elegant glass conservatories: one East facing to greet the rising sun and the other on the West side to bid it good night. As we pass reception, I spy a cozy little bar with log fire burning and have an instant hankering to hunker down for the evening —but following a quick shower, we are off into Cavan town for dinner at The Duck Inn Gastropub, a new venture for TOPI proprietors Gearóid and Tara Lynch, having taken over the food offering in The Imperial Bar & Nightclub.
For some reason, I am expecting an old traditional Irish pub, reeking with rustic appeal, the tidy little frontage of The Imperial doing nothing to contradict that notion. Then we enter into a great cavernous high-ceilinged interior, wearing a most stylish makeover. We kick off with cocktails from Sicilian mixologist Andrea: two magnificent mocktails for La Daughter and Cousin L, a vodka-based creation for Current Wife, and the finest Negroni I’ve ever had.
Lynch confesses they were ‘slaughtered’ when he unveiled the initial Duck Inn menu, the local dining public not at all happy to see familiar favorites vanquished. Accordingly, burgers and chicken dishes returned so the real action is on the daily changing specials. I have a cracking pork belly with Colcannon; the tweens hit the dancefloor for a pre-watershed boogie; and CW and I have another from Andreas’ top five, a cracking Mai Tai, before we head home for the evening.
Ironically, landlocked Cavan seems to be as much water as land, with its 365 lakes, one for each day of the year, and it is also the source of the Rivers Shannon and Erne. Truly beautiful in parts, rolling hills and water at every turn, we work up a serious appetite canoeing on Lough Oughter.
Back at base, I have an aperitif in the bar, and peruse TOPI’s very tasty little art collection, including paintings and prints from Markey Robinson, James Bingham and Sean Scully, before we head into the large dining conservatory, a delightfully bright and airy space . The girls make merry with a sharp children’s menu while we hit the adult-rated version.
The ubiquitous goat’s cheese tart has too often served as the token vegetarian starter on myriad Irish menus through the years so it is refreshing to see such a prime ingredient as St Tola Goat’s Cheese treated with due respect: whipped to near mousse, and wearing a crisp ketafi pastry mantle, its lactic tang marries well with sweet, earthy beetroot and creamy guacamole. Toasted seeds and pea shoots add further fresh textures to my finely balanced dish that doesn’t make any big song and dance about being really quite delicious.
CW has succulent Dublin Bay prawns rolled into filo pastry cigars, with a syrupy sweet red onion marmalade and zingy mango mayonnaise, again a very ‘more-ish’ dish.
Fair enough, we’re in late spring, summer almost upon us, but the cozy fire earlier and now a fine Beaujolais Villages have me thinking wintery thoughts so I have slow roasted Peking duck breast, with a decadently rich Cointreau sauce, a comforter for the ages, abetted by sweet braised red cabbage, verdant broccoli stems and homemade potato crisps. It is wonderful, handsome, hearty fare, but I can’t help feeling that CW does better again with her daily special of turbot and more Dublin Bay prawns.
Myrtle Allen was an old mentor of Lynch’s from their shared days in the chef’s advocacy group, Eurotoques, and this is right out of Allen’s old playbook, taking premium produce and doing as little as possible to present it at its very best.
Panfried in garlic butter, it is the essence of divining perfection in simplicity: sweet, firm flesh of pearl white and sublimely cooked fish, umami tug of lush prawn, and the rich, buttery sauce hefty with garlic’s astringent punch; a tomato concasse is a gentle counterpoint. There’s barely the maker’s brand name remaining on the underside of CW’s plate by the time she’s through.
We have no room for desserts and nothing on the menu is going to persuade us otherwise. And then we learn of the two off-menu daily specials. CW has never knowingly refused a tiramisu in her entire life and signs up immediately while a sticky, fudgey and quite gorgeous fig and almond tart sees me go down in a blaze of deeply sated glory, rolling back to fireside for a digestif.
TOPI is now a newly canonized family favorite, all of us deeply in love with its traditional charms and immaculately delivered take on Irish bistro-style cooking. Service deserves a special mention for it is quite excellent, sadly, an increasing rarity in Irish hospitality. My future must now either include a hip replacement or a helicopter because I sorely need to return to TOPI for more of the same.
- Food: 8.5
- Service: 9
- Value: 9
- Atmosphere: 9
- Tab: € 69 pp (Three-course meal, plus coffee / tea, petit fours, excluding drinks and tip)