The Fatted Calf
“Oh it’s lovely but make sure you book it……” my Mother is always full of restaurant recommendations whenever Ali and I head away for a few days. Sometimes her recommendations work out a treat but there have been a couple of occasions where I wonder if her taste buds are still working correctly. I always research the restaurant myself before booking and the reviews of The Fatted Calf are overwhelmingly positive. We head to Athlone on a dreary January morning and arrive just in time for a wonderful lunch at The Bastion Kitchen. I’m in the throes of man flu and, still feeling quite full from our lunch, we decide to eat at the hotel that evening. That was a serious mistake. Luckily, dinner the following evening made up for this error in judgement – thanks Ma!
The Fatted Calf is located beside the main entrance to Athlone Town Centre Shopping Centre in the middle of town. The main door leads straight into the dining room which is a long rectangle with an open kitchen at one end. The room is well laid out, sleek yet cosy. The lighting may not lead to nice pictures of food but creates an intimate and romantic feel. We have reserved a table for 6pm to take advantage of the early bird menu (two courses for €24.50 or three courses for €29.50) and to my surprise we are the first people to arrive to the restaurant. Soon after we are joined by another family and by the time we are leaving the restaurant is full.
For starters I order the Lisduff black pudding bon bons, crispy Glasson mushrooms, confit egg yolk, honey grain mustard. It arrives quickly to the table, as dishes tend to while ordering from early bird menus, and looks wonderful on the plate. It’s a good start. The breaded black pudding is crispy on the outside and tender within. It is full flavoured and works beautifully with the mustard and egg yolk. The mushrooms are equally as good and are cooked perfectly. With my last piece of pudding I mop up all the remaining bit’s of sauces on the plate, it tastes like black pudding and brown sauce – I’m not sure if that’s the intention or not but it’s genius regardless!
My main of John Stone treacle braised beef short rib, confit onion, horseradish aioli and braising juices (€3 supplement) is another success. The short rib is tender enough to eat with a spoon while the treacle glaze gives it a kind of dark sweetness that takes it to another level. Although the confit onion is not quite as tender as I’d like, it creates a beautiful fork full with the beef and aioli. The accompanying potatoes and vegetables are perfectly cooked and well seasoned and offer the perfect vehicle to mop the jus from my plate.
Not Just an Assembly
During our somewhat grim hotel dinner the night before, I attempted to save the meal by requesting a bowl of vanilla ice-cream and an espresso for dessert. My plan was to combine the two to form an affogato but I didn’t consider the fact that both the ice-cream and coffee would be of horrendous quality and I’d be left wishing I’d skipped dessert altogether. When I see affogato on this menu, I’m instantly drawn to it to see if it fares much better. The Fatted Calf Affogato, Bell Lane Moondust espresso, Boulaban vanilla ice-cream, Bailey’s liqueur is a different beast entirely. The ice-cream is luscious and soft, the espresso smooth yet strong with the Bailey’s providing the gentle boozey notes in the background. It may not be much more than an assembly job, but sourcing and assembling such wonderful ingredients is just as valuable as making them yourself.
Just as we’re finishing up, the restaurant is filling up, a rare sight on a Thursday at the start of January. There is good reason for the big numbers however. The food and service are both exceptional while €29.50 represents excellent value for three wonderful courses of food. We will definitely be back the next time we are in Athlone.
The Fatted Calf
090 6433 371