The Draft House, Shore Road, Strandhill, Co Sligo. Tel: 071-9122222; www.thedrafthouse.ie Eithna’s by the Sea, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo. Tel: 071-9166407; www.eithnasrestaurant.com
THE Foleys and I are abroad in Sligo. Reports from elsewhere confirm the national heatwave persists but we shelter under a silken parachute of luminescent cloud. And we’re glad of it for, primarily nocturnal creatures, a Foley’s head can, on occasion, be overly sensitive to direct onslaughts from mid-summer sun, indeed, direct onslaughts in general. This is such an occasion. We make it to Strandhill in Foleytime, unforgivably west of the arranged meeting hour, but tour guide Auriel Robinson is sympathetic and patient, allowing us a moment to grab an emergency takeaway coffee to breakfast on the hoof during our guided shoreline walk. A maritime archaeologist, the highly informed Auriel also covers local geology, geography, history and botany and after a resuscitative couple of hours on the Sligo coast we are rejuvenated, educated and very hungry.
The Draft House gastropub is a more recent addition to Strandhill, possibly inspired by the enormous success of nearby Shells Café and while Shells evolved organically over the years, there is a sense The Draft House may have begun life via an entrepreneur’s checklist. But if there was a checklist, it was on the money. Interior design is stylish yet welcoming, dark wood interior with light streaming in from myriad angles, it might well be an old salt’s local in Nantucket. A good list of boutique Irish distillers is partnered with the most extensive craft beer menu we have encountered in Sligo and we immediately set to slaking well-earned thirsts while perusing considered menus. Chanson Foley and I both have seafood chowder, a decent rendition with prime fish pieces. My potted lemon crab comes with a keen-edged fennel, orange and herb salad. Chanson also opts for spicy chicken wings, chilli kick muffled by salty-sweet Cashel blue dip. Gambler Foley enjoys lovely Hake while Captain Foley has beautifully cooked fillets of fresh sea trout served with fine local veg. It is a long and lazy lunch and our excellent servers even persuade us to try a cracking selection from a commendable little dessert menu.
That evening, we take a cab from our base camp by Lough Gill (site of Yeats’ Lake Isle of Inisfree) to the genteel Eithna’s, in Mullaghmore. Chef/proprietor Eithna O’Sullivan has been serving up seafood for nearly three decades and you’d fancy many of the large family gatherings spanning generations are serial returnees for the relaxed atmosphere exudes holiday release. Overlooking the harbour, we score a window seat upstairs but our gaze rarely strays from the plate for the rest of the night.
We ensure an order for a deliciously crisp and fruity Rueda, (Blanco Nieva, Verdejo, just €24) is set on repeat, before setting about highly addictive Wild Garlic & Dillisk Pesto atop brown bread that threatens to derail appetites ever before starters arrive. Superb Mullaghmore mackerel fillets, crisped on the skin side, come with a vivacious beetroot-seaweed chutney and crispy fresh squid is sweet, tender and succulent, lemon and lime mayo adding verve.
For mains, Chanson can see no further than lobster, his choice vindicated by an especially fine specimen, fresh prawns dancing attendance. Captain and Gambler both opt for stunning whole Dover sole on the bone and if, I weren’t up to this reviewing lark, I’d have done likewise.
My herb-crumbed crispy plaice has great flavours, not least from a nostalgic white wine and seafood roux, though delicate fish may have fared better in pan than fryer. Nonetheless, it is devoured.
There is something old school about Eithna’s, in the best possible sense, echoing Myrtle Allen’s credo of excellent local seasonal produce cooked simply and well but contemporary touches — including the culinary applications of seaweed — illustrate this is no menu preserved in aspic. Though stuffed to the gills, we are even persuaded to try a chocolate and dillisk meringue, an intriguing notion but wasted on four full Foleys.
Time to call for the bill and say to our server: ‘I will arise and go now, and go to Inisfree ….”
Eithna’s By the Sea restaurant, Mullaghmore, Co Sligo.