Falling in love again with your home county can often happen when you least expect it. Donegal is the tattoo on my heart and the passport I am proudest of. I am in another flush of love with this special, mythical, weather battered, gorgeous and cheeky county at the minute. I dragged my family out while visiting home this weekend to try The Village Tavern in Mountcharles which is just five minutes from Donegal Town. I had heard very, very good things about the food here, so not even a visit from that rascal Desmond was going to stand in the way. One two-hour journey from my homeplace in north-west Donegal later, it was certainly worth it.
Signature Seafood Tasting Board
Tucked into the back of an unassuming pub in the main village of Mountcharles, lies a roaring fire and delicious food that far surpasses any pre-conceptions of rural pub grub. The whole menu was like George Clooney had just married seafood and was showing her off to the world. The starters were clever and inventive. Chicken spring rolls were cooked perfectly with a zesty salsa and a few bonus wings to nibble on.
I had the excellent Signature Seafood Tasting Board starter (you can also have it as a main course) which included the best fish finger I have ever had, the fish was so fresh it was almost flapping with a light and Birdseye-free batter with a shot of soft, chilli-sweet dip. The little serving of chowder was laden with great chunks of fresh fish and there was a baby version of my main course, a smoked hake with chorizo and garden pea risotto. Despite the mix of strong flavours, this worked because of the chef’s deft and delicate finesse with the chorizo, and the hake was perfectly cooked.
Smoked Hake with Chorizo and Garden Pea risotto
The Donegal Mountain Lamb Shank was a big hit with my brother who loves nothing more than meat, spuds, veg and gravy. Every element of this, including the dinky pie was executed very well. There was special order of a steak as another main, and the Porter and Honey glazed pork belly with the apple jam was the perfect antidote to the howling storms outside.
Donegal Mountain Lamb Shank
Then the desserts. I was too full to order so I stole a scoff from everyone else’s plate. The homemade apple tart was exactly that, homemade, with a thin and buttery pastry and a heartwarming option of custard as well as the usual cream or ice-cream. The raspberry fool was one of the most delightful things I had ever seen, with a sweet harmony of tart raspberries, crunchy and crispy meringue and clouds of cream. We spent three hours here and it felt like ten minutes.
The owner, Enda O’Rourke, has created a restaurant that is championing local, seasonal, fresh ingredients, including our island’s jewel of seafood, without a sniff of white vans or sausage and chips. It gladdened my heart to see a proprietor not compromise on food or quality despite the time of year, which can devastate a lot of restaurants. He is sticking to the principle of consistency all year round which will always draw a diner back, and that must be applauded. And, on top of that, it is all for exceptional value.
It is exactly what a Donegal restaurant should be.
I finished off my Donegal love-in that evening at the album launch of ‘Súile’ by Clann Mhic Ruairí, a very talented Donegal band of brothers and one of their daughters, Megan, from Rann na Feirste. It was the best of the sweet draíocht and craic and spirit of a howling but defiant Donegal coast in one Saturday. I beseech you to visit The Village Tavern if you are in the South of the county, and I cannot wait to visit again.