Eating out: Don't pass up The Ponderosa
974 Glenshane Rd,
028 7774 1987/ 028 9065 3090
IF YOU'VE got a selling point, then you may as well go all-in. So, in that spirit, welcome to The Ponderosa, Ireland's Highest Bar and Restaurant, where Ireland's Highest Sunday Dinner Menu was followed by Ireland's Highest Desserts and Liqueurs.
I've never been Ireland's anything-est anything, except maybe slowest corner-back, having diligently worked my way towards that position since starting out as Ireland's slowest corner-forward.
But this 'highest in Ireland' thing doesn't appear to be without controversy. A quick Google reveals a couple of pretenders to the crown – one in the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin that doesn't come close to the Ponderosa's 946.81ft above sea level, and another down in Kerry where it looks like you'd be hard-pressed to find a bag of cheese of onion.
Internet be damned. And up the Nordies. Travel up the Glenshane Pass and you'll find yourself at Ireland's Highest Bar and Restaurant.
You'll also find yourself with some company: being on the main road between the two biggest cities in the north, it was busy, with plenty of buzz from both the restaurant and the bar.
With lots of dark wood and slate-grey leather chairs, it's modern and inviting, although the flat-screen TVs halfway up the walls occasionally masquerading as a fireplace don't add anything beyond the opportunity to ask: "Is that really a flat-screen TVs halfway up the wall occasionally masquerading as a fireplace?"
There is also an actual fireplace. And friendly staff. And a nice atmosphere, spectacular location and plenty of ups and downs across three courses for dinner.
A very 'standard' selection of six starters varies between £4 and £6: The prawn cocktail was a solid, no-frills version, that did what you would expect without impressing too much. The duck wings, on the other hand, were not what you'd expect to find up a mountain in the Sperrins.
More than that, they were superb – meaty, crispy, but still beautifully succulent, and licked in a punchy, fragrant hoi sin sauce.
Mains were another line-up of the usual suspects: a creamy pasta here, a couple of burgers there, Caesar salad variations and fish and chips. But here too, there were outliers. Tasty outliers.
But first the steak. An 8oz rump cost £16 and was clearly a quality piece of meat, tender for the cut and full of beefiness, though it was a fair bit closer to medium that medium rare.
The garlic chips were perfectly forgettable, though the pepper/whiskey sauce helped them along.
Like the starters, the best main course results came from somewhere you wouldn't expect. A few tweaks and the cod would have been worth walking up Glenshane for. The lack of crispy skin – if you call something pan-fried on the menu, at least make it look like it – was disappointing, as was the onion bhaji which was just a bit too floury and stodgy, though it delivered a good flavour.
But those mis-steps aside, the flesh of the fish was beautifully cooked, pearly white through the middle and the curried lentils it sat on were fantastic.
They were earthy and pungent, but gently warm rather than overly hot and not too much for the fish.
Having to drive back down to sea level meant Ireland's Highest Liqueurs would have to wait, so we turned to dessert instead, with varying success.
The Baileys cheesecake was pretty ropey. It tasted fine – it tasted of Baileys – but was, to be kind, a textural challenge. Somewhere there's solitary leaf of gelatine sitting in a box wondering why all of its mates cleared off at once.
The jam and coconut sponge, on the other hand, was lovely – the best of school dinner memories, warm and comforting and swimming in hot custard.
And it's probably best to leave things there. On a high.
:: The bill
Prawn cocktail £6
Duck wings £6
Rump steak £16
Jam sponge £4.95
Sparkling water £2