Restau­rant re­view

So­las, Unit 1, Strand St, Din­gle, Co Kerry. Tel: 066-9150766; so­las-tapas-wine.busi­

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside - Leslie Wil­liams

SO how much do I love Din­gle? Enough to pass up a week-long tour of Rioja so I could spend three days there help­ing to judge prod­ucts at the Blás na hÉire­ann awards and to at­tend the Din­gle Food Fes­ti­val.

The judg­ing of the 2,500 en­tries at Blás is a mon­u­men­tal task and the de­serv­ing supreme cham­pion this year was Mill­bay Oys­ters from Kil­keel in Co Down. It can’t al­ways have been so but it now seems en­tirely log­i­cal that a ma­jor food com­pe­ti­tion should be staged in food lov­ing Din­gle.

The Food Fes­ti­val is one of the busiest and most en­joy­able in the coun­try and the streets lit­er­ally be­come im­pass­able due to the crowds.

One crowded stall was the Lit­tle Cheese Shop’s stand which of­fered melted Ra­clette cheese on sour­dough and it was from owner Mark Mur­phy I got my tip to visit So­las which opened in April this year. From a tiny kitchen, chef Nicky Fo­ley is cre­at­ing de­li­cious Span­ish and Por­tuguese style tapas and small plates and seems to be sourc­ing al­most every­thing he cooks from the Din­gle penin­sula. Fo­ley is from Water­ford orig­i­nally and pre­vi­ously worked in Spain and more re­cently spent 15 years with Richard Cor­ri­gan in Lon­don.

Part of the suc­cess of So­las, I’m told, is that it op­er­ates as a ca­sual drop-in spot as much as a restau­rant — lo­cals are lov­ing the of­fer of €25 for three tapas and a glass of wine. Be­sides tapas, there are more sub­stan­tial cheese and meat shar­ing boards and larger dishes such as rack of lamb and striploin steak.

We stuck to small plates how­ever and first to ar­rive was pun­gent green olives and good bread fol­lowed soon af­ter by char­grilled oc­to­pus (€12). Oc­to­pus needs care­ful cook­ing to show at its best but this was firm and packed with flavour and I loved the fine slices of mar­i­nated ‘carpac­cio’ oc­to­pus which of­fered con­trast as did the punchy squid ink aioli.

Sautéed Ma­ha­rees pota­toes with oys­ter mush­rooms, chilli and gar­lic had a de­cent kick of spice and crispy edges. The con­trast­ing tex­tures of mush­room and crisp potato plus the kick of chilli lifted every­thing eaten with or af­ter them. Ma­ha­rees town­land is near Castle­gre­gory on the penin­sula and fa­mous for their pota­toes, in case you won­dered.

Seafood Chow­der Cro­quettes (€9) in­trigued us and I con­fess sounded like a dish that might not work, but it did, glo­ri­ously so. The two golden crumbed balls, the size of duck eggs, of­fered a rather joy­ous con­trast be­tween the outer crumb and the ooz­ing creamy chow­der en­cased within. Seaweed and mush­room cro­quettes were al­most as good with tangy seaweed zing­ing out over the mush­room and soft potato fill­ing.

Pil Pil prawns and chick­peas (€14) gave us a dozen curled crevettes straight off the pier in Din­gle, sweet and ten­der they worked well with a pot of com­fort­ing chick­peas ren­dered sweet from slow cooked onions and con­fit tomato and given a lift with some cumin and co­rian­der.

Ser­vice was charm­ing and ef­fi­cient and So­las is full of those small touches that can make a restau­rant. Wa­ter is served in weighty Din­gle Crys­tal carafes filled with fresh mint and lemon slices and there were fre­quent of­fers of ex­tra bread and sec­onds.

The wine list is short but good value and sourced from an im­porter I hadn’t en­coun­tered be­fore. In Dublin you can strug­gle to find a wine un­der €36; in So­las the list be­gins at €25 for a light, trop­i­cal fruit tinged Span­ish Sau­vig- non (I was of­fered a taste) and has six wines un­der €30. Our bot­tle of Tu­danca Rib­era del Duero Roble at €34 was inky and full flavoured and a steal at this price.

For dessert we chose poached pear with a clas­sic dark choco­late mousse (€5) and were gifted a bonus scoop of creamy home­made pis­ta­chio ice cream. We also or­dered some petit-four choco­lates (€8) to take away — 10 de­li­cious morsels which all had a nod to the West with a Din­gle Whiskey Truf­fle, a Bean-in-Din­gle cof­fee truf­fle, an Achill Is­land Sea-Salt fudge and a Dick Mack’s Ale Fruit Pastille. There has long been a short­age of re­ally good tapas in Ire­land, par­tic­u­larly in Dublin and eastern coun­ties. You used to have to head west to Cava Bodega in Gal­way but now you def­i­nitely need to go to Din­gle.

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