Thursday, 30 April 2015

Restaurant Review: The Oarsman, Carrick-on-Shannon

If you needed a good reason to visit the attractive riverside town of Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim, the food being served in the Oarsman has to be top of the list. I have dined there three times in as many months and was hugely impressed by the food that I ate in this delightful gastro pub. Ironically, all my visits happened to be on Tuesdays, a notably slow restaurant day in even the busiest establishments, but on each occasion the Oarsman was buzzing with customers. This is always a positive sign and a good indication of the quality of the cooking.
There are two dining areas in the Oarsman; an upstairs restaurant and a dining space in the pub itself. In many ways this is not a pub that serves food but rather a restaurant in a pub, which also serves wine and beer – indeed some of these are the best craft beers available at the moment. On each of my visits I dined in the pub area which I found comfortable and somewhat evocative of Irish pubs of old without being in any way twee or contrived. There is nothing stuffy or pretentious about the Oarsman, wooden tables and chairs along with upholstered green leather banquette seating give the dining area a relaxed comfortable feel and immediately put you at ease.
Once we were seated bread was delivered to our table. On offer were slices of a soft white and a dark, treacle-rich brown soda bread. Although both were lovely, the soda bread was particularly delicious and had a complexity of flavour which suggested the inclusion of walnuts and perhaps oats. The bread came with a generous amount of butter on the side which always pleases me.
Chicken Wings
Although an à la carte menu was available, we dined from the set menu which at 2 courses for €21.50 or 3 courses for €27.50 per person represents very good value indeed, especially in light of the quality of the food that we subsequently ate. Despite it being a set menu, there was plenty of choice for each course and much to tempt us.
To start we chose:
  • Confit of Gannon’s Chicken Wings, Hot & Sticky Glaze, Cashel Blue Cheese Dip, Celery Salad
  • Cured Organic Salmon, Smoked Panna Cotta, Treacle & Walnut Crumb, Fennel & Herb Salad
Cured Organic Salmon
I am always loathe to declare anything ‘the best that I have tasted’ but the Chicken Wings were delicious and definitely amongst the best wings that I have eaten. The glaze was totally addictive, with a spicy heat that was tempered by a sticky sweetness and a hint of citrus. Being a great fan of blue cheese, I was predisposed to like the dip, but this one was better than I could have hoped being served almost like a warm sauce rather than the cold mayonnaise-based dip one usually sees. It was the perfect match for the sticky chicken.

The Cured Salmon dish had many intriguing elements on the plate, not least of which was the smoked panna cotta, faintly scented with garlic and subtly flavoured with what appeared to be horseradish. I loved it. I suspect that the treacle crumb was made from dried crumbs of the soda bread we had eaten earlier and found that this provided an effective textural contrast to the soft, tender salmon and the creamy panna cotta. This was a fresh and lively dish full of flavour and was beautiful to behold.
Twice-Cooked Pork Belly
For main courses we chose:
  • Twice cooked Pork Belly, Cannellini Beans, Black Kale, Caramelised Onion Purée, Tomato & Chorizo Fondue
  • Butter-roasted Chicken Supreme, Smoked Bacon, Potato & Sweetcorn Hash, Charred Onion, Creamed Corn, Tarragon Jus
The Pork Belly was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous and came with a rich but beautifully sweet caramelised onion purée. The onions had obviously been slowly cooked to the caramelisation stage as there wasn’t a hint of bitterness and, in fact, the purée tasted almost fruity as if apple had been included; this was the perfect accompaniment to the pork belly. For lovers of pork, this dish ticked all the boxes because along with the soft, unctuous belly was a strip of the crispiest crackling I have eaten in a long while. A generous portion of a cannellini bean ‘stew’, a tomato and chorizo fondue and dehydrated kale crisps finished the dish off perfectly.
Butter-Roasted Chicken Supreme
The Butter-Roasted Chicken was beautifully cooked and actually tasted of chicken, which is a feat in itself these days. This is partly because the Oarsman obviously has a good supplier, but is also due to the care and attention to detail shown during cooking. The inclusion of sweetcorn in the form of a ‘hash’ and as a purée imparted a sweetness to the dish but the rich tarragon jus and the charred onions balanced everything out. This was not your typical roast chicken dinner, but rather a plate of food that would not look out of place in a fine dining restaurant.
For dessert we chose:
  • Orange, Vanilla Rice Pudding Mousse, Rhubarb Soup, Ginger Sponge
  • Chocolate Mousse, Orange Jelly, Pistachio Cream, Honeycomb
At first glance, the Rice Pudding dessert looked very simple, but on taking my first spoonful I quickly realised that this was actually a dish that was perfectly balanced in terms of flavour and texture with each element complementing the next so that they were presented at their best. The rice pudding was speckled full of vanilla seeds and tasted wonderful against the spicy ginger sponge and the vibrant pink-coloured and slightly tart rhubarb soup.

Vanilla Rice Pudding Mousse
The rich Chocolate Mousse came presented in a kilner jar. I know this is becoming a bit of a tired cliché in presentation terms, but it still delights me to receive something that is served in individual portions like this. Underneath the mousse was a layer of sweet orange jelly with discernible pieces of fresh orange in it. An intensely pistachio flavoured cream and a scattering of crumbly honeycomb topped the mousse off. I would have preferred a slightly less sweet orange jelly as I think this would have cut through the richness of the mousse and pistachio cream and the sweetness of the honeycomb. Mind you, this is only the most minor criticism in what was a wonderful dining experience. 

Seduced by the wonderful craft beers on offer, we washed everything down with Carrig Brewing Co. Poachers Pale Ale and McGargles Uncle Jim’s Stout, which might seem unusual choices to accompany the meal, but tasted wonderful.

Chocolate Mousse
What I particularly liked about the Oarsman is the fact that Head Chef Shawn Keniston clearly enjoys cooking and experiments with flavours and textures in a playful way. The owners, brothers Conor and Ronan Maher, along with Shawn and the rest of the staff have created a hidden gem of gastro pub/restaurant in Leitrim which is providing quality food at a reasonable price. If you get the opportunity, do call in and try out the food.
Along with coffees to finish off the meal, total cost for two people, with tip, came to €85.

The Oarsman
Bridge Street
County Leitrim
Tel: 071 9621733
Tuesday – Friday, food served 12pm-9pm and to 9.30pm on Saturdays
Sundays – Only by appointment

This review first appeared in

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Loin of Roscommon Lamb with Minty Couscous, Griddled Courgettes & Harissa Dressing

The Roscommon Lamb Festival 2015 is taking place over the next few days (29th April – 4th May) with a number of events scheduled in the town itself but also around the county. The Festival, which is now in its eighth year, focuses on locally produced food and in particular, all things to do with lamb! However, this is not all that will be happening over the next few days, as there are many events scheduled to take place including music performances, heritage tours and other fun activities for all the family.

Of particular note during this year’s Festival, is a Fundraising Supper which is being held on the Friday evening – 1st May, to raise monies for the local Join our Boys Trust. The trust was set up by Paula and Padraic Naughton, who live in Roscommon Town for their three sons Archie (10) and twins George and Isaac (5) who have all been diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). I hope to make it along on the evening to sample the intriguing sounding menu from Maltese chef Can Kurtcu of restaurant Diar-il-Bniet in Dingli on the island of Malta. Further information about this Supper and the other Festival events can be accessed here.
Roscommon has the highest lamb output per acre in Ireland, so it is appropriate that the Festival should take place in the county. I love the sweet taste of new season lamb and often cook with it but note that, to date, I have not included any recipes using it on this blog. This is even more embarrassing to admit as my husband has a sheep farm! In an effort to remedy this shameful omission, I am posting this recipe which is incredibly simple to make and tastes absolutely delicious. Loin of lamb like all choice-cuts can be expensive to buy but, if you prefer, you can easily substitute lamb chops.
Although some people like their meat cooked to the ‘well-done’ stage, I urge you cook the lamb to no more than ‘medium’ especially if you are using loin. Of critical importance is to allow the meat to rest in a warm place for at least 5 minutes before attempting to slice it. This way you will not be left with a puddle of juices on the plate and the lamb will be beautifully succulent.


Harissa Dressing:
100g natural Greek yoghurt
1tblsp harissa paste
A few drops of lemon juice
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Minty couscous:
100g couscous
150ml vegetable/light chicken stock
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
2tblsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 x 250g tin of chickpeas, drained
1 large bunch of fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
To finish:
A little olive oil
1 large courgette, sliced thinly along the length of the courgette
4 x 125g lamb loins, trimmed of all fat and sinew
1 pomegranate, seeds only
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper


Harissa dressing:
1. Mix the yoghurt and harissa paste together and add a few drops of lemon juice. Taste and adjust season as necessary. Place into a little bowl, cover and refrigerate until required.
Minty couscous:
2. Place the dry couscous into a medium sized bowl and add a generous pinch of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Separately heat up the stock in a small saucepan until it starts to simmer. Pour the stock on top of the couscous, add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and give everything a mix with a fork. Cover the bowl with some cling film and set aside for 10 minutes.
3. After 10 minutes, remove the cling film, by which time all the liquid should have been absorbed. Fluff the couscous up with a fork and add the onions, chickpeas and freshly chopped mint. Give everything a good toss with the fork, taste and adjust seasoning as required. Set aside until ready to serve.
4. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Separately place a griddle pan on the hob over a high temperature and allow it to get really hot.
5. Lightly oil the slices of courgette with olive oil on both sides and place into the pan. Allow to cook for 1 minute before turning and cooking for a further minute. Remove from the pan season gently and set aside.
6. Let the frying pan become really hot again and once it is add a small splash of olive oil. Sear each of the lamb loins for 1 minute on each side, removing them to an oven proof dish once they are deep golden brown. Place in the preheated oven and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the meat to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes.
To serve:
7. Slice each loin into 4 or 5 slices and place on top of some of the couscous on each plate. Add a few griddled courgettes to each and scatter over some pomegranate seeds. Serve with the harissa dressing on the side.

Serves 4.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Lemon Shortbread Biscuits with Lemon Curd

Yes… I AM shamelessly posting yet another lemon recipe, but these are such delicious biscuits, that I find it impossible not to publish it! The truth is that I always have a stock of lemons available in my kitchen as I use them extensively in my cooking and baking in both sweet and in savoury dishes. Without a doubt I have a lemon addiction, but all things considered, there are worse things than this.

I regularly make my own homemade lemon curd and use it as a filling for various cakes, pastries and other baked goods that I make. I love it dolloped on freshly baked scones or spread on slices of soft white bread. I could quite happily eat it straight from the jar with a teaspoon and will admit to being the reprehensible kind of person who often does exactly that!!! I just love it! It also makes a wonderful filling for these biscuits which if you are a fan of lemon, you will love.
These shortbread-like biscuits have the most wonderful texture; at first bite, they are firm, but upon eating they just melt in the mouth. The biscuit dough is lightly flavoured with some finely grated lemon zest, and then the biscuits are sandwiched together with the aforementioned lemon curd and finished off with a light drizzle of lemon glacé icing. These biscuits are definitely a lemon lover’s dream!
As the dough contains quite a large proportion of butter, it is soft and a little tricky to work with. It is imperative that you chill it for at least an hour before attempting to roll it out. I find it easier to roll the dough to the correct thickness between two sheets of very lightly floured non-stick baking parchment and then transfer the stamped out biscuits to the prepared baking trays using a palette knife.
I used a large heart-shaped cookie cutter, but you can use whatever shape you like, but be aware that smaller biscuits may require less baking time, so keep an eye on them. I also stamped out a circle from half of the biscuits which I used as the ‘top’ biscuit in each sandwiched pair. Again, you don’t have to do this, but I think it’s nice to reveal a little of the filling on each finished biscuit.
These are fun biscuits, and other than the dough being a little sticky to work with, relatively simple to make. Whenever I make them, they tend to be snapped up in no time at all and I am regularly asked to make them for cake sales etc.


225g butter, softened
125g icing sugar
1 large lemon, finely grated zest
2 large egg yolks
300g plain flour
To sandwich the biscuits together:
115g lemon curd (see recipe here) or use a good quality store-bought version
To finish:
100g icing sugar
Juice of ½ lemon


1. Place the butter, icing sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, cream together until light a fluffy. Add the egg yolks and mix again, until fully incorporated. Add the flour and using a wooden spoon, work into the other ingredients to form a dough.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to bring together into a ball (the dough will be quite soft, but try to resist the urge to add more flour). Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Line two or three large baking trays with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
4. Roll the dough out thinly to a thickness of about 5mm between two sheets of lightly floured non-stick baking parchment. Use a large (about 10cms wide at widest point) heart-shaped cookie cutter to stamp out individual biscuits. Stamp out a small circle (about 2cms in diameter) from the centre of half of the heart shaped biscuits. Using a palette knife, carefully lift the stamped out biscuits onto the prepared baking trays, leaving about 2cms between each as they will spread a little as they bake.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-12 minutes or until just beginning to colour at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
To finish:
6. Place the icing sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl and mix together to form a smooth, but slightly runny glacé icing. Place the icing into a disposable piping bag and snip the very end of the tip off to create a small hole. Pipe lines of the icing over the biscuits with the cut-out centres and allow to set.
7. Put a dollop (about 1tsp) of lemon curd in the centre of the underside of the un-iced biscuits (i.e. the side that was against the baking parchment when they were baking) and spread out a little before sandwiching together with one of the iced top biscuits.

Make 14-16 large sandwiched biscuits.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb crumble has to be one of the simplest desserts to make and is very economical to make, especially if you grow your own rhubarb as I do.
This is a perfect pudding for spring, when you are never quite sure what the weather holds in store and you yearn to eat something warm and comforting on those chilly days that April often offers up. The weather has certainly been very unpredictable in the past couple of weeks. For the past week the warm sun and has made it feel almost balmy, but a cold rainy spell has now set in and the summery foods that I was eating earlier in the week now seem totally inappropriate. What I want is something, warm and comforting and preferably sweet and a little bit self-indulgent. This crumble is just the thing.
I have mentioned before how the rhubarb is almost like a weed in my garden and perversely seems to thrive the more that it is neglected. I love using rhubarb in a range of dishes, but this crumble, based on the recipe that my grandmother used to make, has to be my favourite! I particularly love the way the sticky rhubarb juices bubble around the edges as the crumble bakes in the oven. It never fails to amaze me how such simple things can give so much pleasure.
There are no complex or tricky techniques that need to be mastered here; all that’s required is the rubbing of the butter into the flour, the addition of some sugar and the chopping of some rhubarb… so much easier than making a pie or tart and, in my humble opinion, a far tastier end result.
I baked the crumble in individual sized dish (about 250ml capacity each) but you can also bake it in in a single dish. The crumble should be served warm and cries out for the addition of some warm pouring custard or a generous dollop of lightly whipped fresh cream.


700g rhubarb, cut into 5cm long chunks
125g caster sugar
1 orange, finely grated zest and juice
270g plain flour
180g butter, cubed
90g caster sugar


1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160/Gas Mark 4.
2. Toss the rhubarb, sugar, orange juice and zest together and place into a 1.5 litre baking dish (at least 5cms deep). Place the dish on a baking tray and set aside.
3. Place the flour into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter using your fingers until you have a soft crumbly texture. Add the sugar, mixing through with your hands so that it is well distributed.
4. Scatter the topping evenly over the rhubarb and bake in the preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and the rhubarb juices are beginning to bubble up around the edges of the crumble. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving hot with fresh custard or lightly whipped fresh cream.

Serves 6.