Eating Out: The Firebox Grill in Fahan is the place to go for a seriously good steak
The Railway Tavern & Firebox Grill
00353 74 936 0137
IN THE 1999 New Yorker magazine article that began the process of turning the late Anthony Bourdain from chef to writer to peerless documentarian, he lifted the lid on what a customer might be letting themselves in for by ordering their meat well-done.
The “philistine” in question was inviting the kitchen to send out its “garbage” – “tough, riddled with nerve and connective tissue... and maybe a little stinky from age”.
Mmm, pass the pepper sauce.
He returned to the subject in a later piece, where he shared some of the tricks even the swankiest chefs employ when things are getting hectic.
“Fast well-done steak? I’ve watched French grads of three-star kitchens squeeze the blood out of filet mignons with their full body weight, turning a medium into well in seconds. I’ve watched in horror as chefs have hurled beautiful chateaubriands into the deep-fat fryer…”
Actually, I’ll have some ketchup instead.
They don’t do that at the Firebox Grill, and you know they don’t do that because anyone wanting a steak beyond medium are forewarned on the menu that they’ll have to wait for it to emerge from said grill.
“Allow additional cooking time for any steak dish being cooked well done or very well done.”
Hang on, very well done? Lord help us. But as much as I may think it’s a crime for one of these beautiful hunks of meat to end up in that sort of state, I’m not the one eating it. Anyway, I think a Pot Noodle has plenty to recommend it. Who’s the bigger criminal?
The Railway Tavern and Firebox Grill occupies the old Fahan train station, just off the road between Derry and Buncrana, equal parts local pub and steakhouse, with England thumping Panama in the World Cup on the TV (mercifully turned over to Donegal thumping Fermanagh in the Ulster final), and tables and booths nestled among memorabilia from the old Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company.
It’s a shimmering Sunday lunchtime with the sun bouncing off the gorgeous lough and Inishowen looking particularly handsome. The set menu (one course for €16.95, two for €19.95 or three for €22.95) is tempting but the steak choices on the a la carte, straight off the eponymous firebox, win out.
Ours came out rare and medium rare respectively, as requested. Flame licked outside and glowing pink within, each fell apart with a little chew, each well-seasoned with a slightly salty crust lifting the beefiness levels.
Two serious, seriously good, steaks.
The ribeye came with ribs that didn’t quite reach fall off the bone territory, but still had a good porky flavour and weren’t over-sauced. On their own they would have been pleasant enough, but the ribeye was just too good for them.
The sirloin was topped with a melting wodge of Cashel blue cheese and caramelised onions. It didn’t need either, and managed to stand up to both, which wasn’t easy. Like the ribeye it was €26.95 and, like the ribeye, it was a triumphant piece of meat.
They were the headliners but supporting sides of hot, crunchy, slicked-in butter garlic chips and a square of equally garlicky dauphinoise potatoes held their own too. Big, base flavours, leaving you in no doubt you were being well fed.
Things started out that way as well, with a huge bowl of mussels from nearby Greencastle coming in a pool of (more) garlic cream, diluted into a heady soup with the juice from the molluscs.
An actual soup – a chowder full of local fish and more of those mussels – was smokier than you’ll find most places but all the better for it. This was a lunch (thank God for that, as it provided a window to not eat again until breakfast) that left you felt looked after, a feeling only helped by the staff – friendly, attentive and generally good craic.
Note: pulling a face when England score definitely qualifies as being good craic.
For dessert there was, among other things, a brownie, a cheesecake, an Eton mess, usual pub fare, all at £5.95. The apple tart was actually a custard tart with pieces of apple through it. It was fine, as was the ice cream with it. But it’s the savoury stuff you’ll want to come back for, especially those steaks, as that’s what the Firebox Grill does well. Very well.
Seafood chowder €6.95
Cashel blue sirloin steak €26.95
Rib eye and ribs €26.95
Apple tart €5.95
Americano x2 €4