A sexed-up crispy pancake? ABF? Aoife Cox goes wild in Leitrim’s brilliant The Cottage.
Talk about atmospheric. Outside, the country-dark night and the rush of water through the Jamestown weir; inside, the main dining room at The Cottage lit only by the tealights on diners' tables. Perhaps, if the power cut had lasted for more than ten minutes, we would have settled in and started telling ghost stories - this was, after all, the rural Leitrim outpost that inspired Conor McPherson's play, The Weir, whose characters spin supernatural tales in a country pub.
But, as it was, the electricity returned (much to the relief of the kitchen staff, no doubt) and the tales that we would tell were not ghostly but gastronomic, with chef Sham Hanifa every inch the culinary hero.
For here at The Cottage was food that made you want to clear your plate, not because that's what your mammy always told you to do, but because it was simply too good to leave behind: the breads, most especially the slices of dark, sweet walnut and treacle loaf, and the accompaniments of sundried tomato paste and a basil pesto that was lush, deeply green and fresh as you like; buttery scallops served with style on a sweet potato purée that was warm with spice; a feta and spinach filo parcel with an intensely flavoured minestrone velouté; plates with the distinct look of having been licked clean.
Here, too, was food to make you smile: enter the sexed-up crispy pancake that was A.B.F. - Anything But Findus - to wit a deep-fried parcel of spiced vegetables served with a delectable mango chutney and cracking little bowl of dahl. Bring back the '70s I thought, all is forgiven, and I suddenly wanted my perfectly seared sea trout, with its rolls of al dente vegetables and lemongrass and tomato sauce, to morph into crispy pancake form.
The vegetable accompaniments, meanwhile, included spuds two ways (because we are still, undeniably, in Ireland) - they appeared both properly mashed and in fried chunk form, along with parsnip, and dressed with a lightly curried sauce. What Sham had done for crispy pancakes, it seems he was repeating for curry chips.
Fair play to you, Sham - a Malaysian chef, using Irish ingredients, cooked with a broadly Asian accent but with always an eye to Irish sensibilities - which explains why the dessert menu, in addition to its brownie with sweet chilli ice cream - which gently challenges with the promise of being both hot and cold at once (and about which I was intrigued, if undecided) - also includes an elegant riff on that Irish mammy special, the apple tart. Welcome to The Cottage folks, where east meets West of Ireland.
The Cottage, Jamestown, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim 071 962 5933 www.cottagerestaurant.ie