041-988 4444, conynghamarms.ie ¤ This pastel-hued hotel on Slane’s Main Street has a neat little restaurant tucked down some stairs at the back of the building. The odd-shaped dining room has an open kitchen to the right of the entrance, with tables looping to the left, around a bar that disects three small, separate rooms.
It’s a sister hotel to nearby Tankardstown House, which boasts the excellent Brabazon restaurant under head chef Robbie Krawczyk. There’s a new chef at the helm in the Conyngham Arms – Killian O’Donohoe joined last month and his menu reads well, with a mozzarella, tomato, blood orange and rocket salad (¤6.50) and Black Wexford Mussels in garlic and wine (¤9.50). The prices are also attractive, with most mains clipping ¤15 – apart from a sirloin steak au poivre (¤23). In a hurry, we order one starter to share, a tian of picked crab with “spiced maryrose dressing” on Slane baked brown bread (¤12.50).
Unfortunately, this takes more than 20 minutes to arrive, and while the crab is fresh, it’s been drowned in far too much mayonnaise – no spice or “maryrose” flavour – although the bread is very good. For mains a confit of Irish duck leg with mash, braised cabbage with an orange and thyme demi glaze (¤14.50) is a decent piece of meat, if still quite fatty. The thyme flavour has been fully absorbed by the red cabbage, a slightly jarring combo. The mash is creamy and well seasoned. Oddly, two large swirls of balsamic vinegar and pesto surround the meal – entirely unnecessary when the demi glaze is so full of flavour.
A slow-cooked lamb shank (¤16.50) looks very attractive, with roast garlic mash and “roasted” carrot (actually slightly soggy, precut carrot batons). The shank is tender and well cooked but lacks depth of flavour – it could do with more seasoning or punchier cooking juices on top. There’s some decent cooking happening here and at very reasonable prices – by the time we leave the room is full with a mix of locals and tourists.
OCEAN BAR AND GRILL
Strand Road, Bray, Co Wicklow, 01-286 5071, oceanbarandgrill.ie ¤¤ Housed in a large building overlooking the Bray seafront, Ocean avoids feeling too cavernous with exposed brick walls and warm-coloured furniture.
There are some nice booths alongside the back wall, a wood-burning stove and the separate White Room – which has a strong nautical theme )no shortage of anchor motifs, shells and lighthouses) is available for private hire. Once this never-ending winter passes, the front terrace gives great views out to sea (ignore the car park below).
Breakfast is served on weekends only, and has a limited menu. Better to order from the lunch menu, which has a standard ¤6.95 for all starters (such as chowder with brown soda bread or Tiger prawn and crab risotto cake with rocket and salsa), and ¤5.75 for desserts (sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream, or chocolate and hazelnut panna cotta).
There’s typical grill offerings, such as steaks and seafood; the burgers are large (the kind that need a steak knife to hold them together), while chips are the fat, fluffy kind, served in a mini deepfryer basket.
There’s a theatre and dinner deal with nearby Mermaid Arts Centre where you can get a ticket to selected shows plus two- or three-course pre-theatre meal and glass of wine for ¤32/¤38. There’s a two-course meal for ¤24 from 5pm and the kids’ meal, while of the goujon, lasagne, sausage and chip variety, is just ¤6.95 with a dessert and drink.