Dine in a converted barn adjacent to one of the country’s oldest bars in rural Donegal. Once a dance hall, a movie theater and a carpenter’s shop, from the summer of 2021 the barn is home to local chef Ciaran Sweeney. If his name is familiar, you may know him from his days working at Forest & Marcy.
Tasting menus are everywhere these days, but Sweeney’s offering a three-course dinner is refreshing. In addition to 4 starters, 4 mains and 4 desserts, the specials board has he 3 additional starters and he 2 mains. With so many regulars, plus golfers playing Rossapenna and other visitors, this provides more choice while also being a way to reduce repetition in the kitchen. The 60 euro price includes vegetables, snacks and petit fours.
Donegal Farmhouse A combination of cheddar and Comté stuffed with caramelized onions and sprinkled with fresh truffles. They’ve been a feature of the menu since day one, along with several other dishes you’ll encounter over the next few hours. People often ask for more, Sweeney told me days later. Another one of her snacks is a small crispy pastry tart stuffed with shrimp in smoked her paprika and topped with carrots for a lovely bite that packs a punch. There’s a melty, buttery brioche with bacon and onions, and brown bread with molasses from local brewery Kinegger and Janarrodi stout.
Sweeney thinks Gallagher’s oysters in Lettermacaward down the road are the best in the country. He tops it with anchovy crumbs and anchovy mayonnaise and serves it with bagna cauda, which is even more flavorful with white miso. It’s the heart of umami, and we love it.
Mulroy Bay’s hand-dive roasted scallops are sweet cut with lemon puree and shellfish served with peas, crisp ham and lettuce shards. A simple dish, but very good. Tuna carpaccio — lightly seared fish crusted with fennel, coriander, black pepper, and togarashi (a Japanese spice mixture) — served with avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and bonito vinegar. The controversial jar of avocado sticks to local sourcing, but it’s clean and delicious.
And then comes Sweeney’s Tombstone dish of fermented potato bread, bacon and cabbage, as much his signature as Paul Flynn’s Crab Creme Brulee or Mikael Virjanen’s Smoked Eel, Granny Smith and Foie Gras. If you’ve had his dish before, you’ve probably had a version of this dish. The bread used to be made by his grandma and he is now getting the soda bread treat. The cabbage is from Gortahoke, charred in the core, blanched and finely chopped greens, combined with in-house white wine vinegar and mushroom soy made from mushroom trimmings, and finally topped with bacon and onion crumbs. A warm and bubbly espuma. A friend of mine who’s never met this dish describes it as a “bacon delight,” and she’s right. say.)
Cod with tomatoes, local crab and seaweed in a fermented tomato soup poured at the table is the embodiment of summer lightness. Meanwhile, the deeply savory risotto of Barry Holy Broccoli with black walnut, feta and lemon confit is far more than a vegetarian consolation prize, and Akil Lamb is another haute cuisine of his. The legs are pink and the shoulder meat is marinated and caramelized and served with roasted garlic pomme puree and mini cassoulet.
For dessert, there’s an excellent sticky toffee pudding with amazing layers of crunch from the tuile of buckwheat and brown sugar, with stem ginger ice cream, wonderfully sharp lime posset, and a rich, fondant-like filling. Accompanied by a very satisfying chocolate tart. The cheeses are handpicked from Ireland, the madeleines with passion fruit curd and the cassis financiers of petit fours are nice but not necessary.
As for the dining room, there’s no getting away from the fact that the aesthetic here is eclectic, and not in a good way. Stay away from food.
Service was sweet and smiling, bill for four including two bottles of wine — a Paul Kluver Estate Pinot Noir (€57) and a Condrieu by André Perret (€47) came to €364 before service.
Fixed price dinner is €60 per person.
Stay overnight at Clara’s Cots next door and you can see the peak season bill of €460 for two before drinks and service.
old glen, glen village, carai ghat, co donegal, oldeglen.ie