Cook­ing up a storm at West­port’s Creel

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - SEVEN DAYS - Aoife McEl­wain

For those of you who (like my­self) are un­fa­mil­iar with the lingo of fish­er­men, a creel is a wicker bas­ket or cage used for car­ry­ing or catch­ing fish. At the har­bours and ports of Ire­land, you’ll of­ten find stacks of creels tak­ing a break on the main­land in be­tween their shifts of ly­ing in wait for lob­sters and other crus­taceans on the ocean floor.

The Creel on West­port Quay, just a short walk from the en­trance to the stun­ning West­port House, takes its name from this sym­bol of the coast of Ire­land. There has been a café on this spot un­der this name for quite some time, but it has un­der­gone some changes in the past year-and-a-half, since lo­cal woman Aoife O’Neill took over in 2016. Pre­vi­ously, O’Neill had been work­ing in Dublin and Gal­way as a med­i­cal sci­en­tist. Her hus­band, Tom Bourke, who is also from West­port, runs The Tow­ers Bar & Restau­rant on the other end of the Quay, so hos­pi­tal­ity is now a fam­ily busi­ness. “It seemed like a great op­por­tu­nity at the right time,” O’Neill tells me of her de­ci­sion to change ca­reers. “We could see there was so much po­ten­tial on the quay. I think it’s go­ing to be an area of growth.”

The decor is Cath Kid­stonesque polka-dot-pas­tels and the vibe is fam­ily-friendly. Ev­ery ta­ble is full, piled high with plates such as eggs royale (¤10.50) and a veg­gie break­fast (¤9.50) com­plete with a crispy fried po­lenta cake and a baba ghanoush-style aubergine purée. There is pos­si­bly too much smoked sal­mon on the eggs royale, an un­usual com­plaint, but the pi­quant hol­landaise that cov­ers the per­fectly poached egg on top is per­fec­tion.

O’Neill and her team make ev­ery­thing they can from scratch, in­clud­ing pots of hum­mus and pestoyou can buy to take home with you from their small but well-stocked deli. Head chef Pa­trick McEllin has de­vel­oped a fan­tas­tic brown sauce, a dol­lop of which is smeared on to the Water­ford -style blaa of my ba­con & egg blaa (¤7.90). They sell it by the bot­tle, though McEllin is giv­ing noth­ing away about how it’s made; “Se­cret Blend” is writ­ten on the la­bel un­der the head­line of in­gre­di­ents.

O’Neill re­ally wants to show­case what’s spe­cial about West­port and the west in terms of pro­duce, and she is not short of great lo­cal pro­duc­ers to shout about. The eggs are all free-range, ei­ther from West Awake eggs from Kil­timagh or from Clare­mor­ris Eggs, both in Co Mayo. For their meat, they use Kelly’s of New­port, Mc­Cor­mack’s Butch­ers of West­port and McHale meats in Castle­bar. The smoked sal­mon is from Kil­lala Bay in north Mayo, and the goats’ yo­gurt and cheese on the menu is from the Gal­way Goat Farm. Even the beau­ti­ful wild flow­ers on the counter are lo­cal, sourced from the Ap­ple Or­chard Cot­tage Gar­den.

All the bak­ing is done in-house too, and the cake dis­play is tan­ta­lis­ing. A slice of ap­ple pie boasts a gor­geously golden short crust pas­try, like some­thing you’d see in a film adap­ta­tion of a Charles Dick­ens’s novel, and the ap­ples in­side have a de­light­ful bite. The bal­ance of tart­ness and sweetness is ex­pertly man­aged, and O’Neill gives credit to her pas­try chef from Switzer­land, who has joined the team for the sum­mer.

The cof­fee (¤3.20) is strong and well brewed, a good rounded flavour to suit a va­ri­ety of cof­fee palates. It’s made with Green Bean Cof­fee roasted by Deirdre and Pat Grant in Dun­dalk.

O’Neill is con­scious of cre­at­ing a menu that suits both lo­cals and vis­i­tors. “We have a fan­tas­tic lo­cal trade, of which we are very proud, with more and more com­ing to us for brunch, which we have put a lot of work into.”

At the mo­ment, they’re open for break­fast and lunch ev­ery day, with a brunch on the week­ends, and daily spe­cials that might in­clude a hake, prawns, scal­lop dish with orzo pasta and tomato (¤14), or Moroc­can-style chicken skew­ers (¤12). They’re open ev­ery day from 9.30am to 5pm, stretch­ing to 6 or 7pm in the sum­mer months.

The Creel, The Quay, Clo on monad, West port, Co Mayo. 098-26174. the­creel.ie

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