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