Eating Out: Nancy's not just a barnstorming chowder joint

 Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin, Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
 Nancy’s Barn in Ballyliffin, Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Nancy’s Barn, Ballyliffin, Co Donegal   00353 86 843 2897    Facebook:@nancysbarn

I OUGHT to warn you. There’s a joke coming up at the end of this that is so weak and so laboured that you might actually injure yourself groaning. Proceed at your own risk.

In the meantime…

Hands up if you knew there was a World Chowder Championship. It’s possible I was the only one in the dark, of course – I lead a very sheltered life, after all. Anyway, there is, and this year, after a cook-off in Rhode Island, it was won by Nancy’s Barn!

It’s a fantastic achievement and, judging by the number of people here on a rainy Wednesday lunchtime, it’s done business no harm at all. By the way, on that subject, you really ought to book if you’re planning a visit (and you should plan a visit). As I’m stupid, I didn’t. I just rolled up with my wife, brother, and a family friend, not expecting any problem. Luckily, they were able to seat us, but it was touch and go for a while which would arrive first, the food or the decree nisi.

It’s a funny thing here. The standard menu is just that – standard. Wraps, sandwiches, paninis, soup – all very nice-looking, but nothing out of the ordinary, excepting the chowder, of course. The specials menu is quite a contrast. It’s stylish, imaginative, and very tempting. So tempting, in fact, that, although we’d come for the chowder, we decided to go with the specials, and just ordered a small bowl of the award-winning stuff to make sure we knew what the fuss was about.

Let’s get the minor disappointment out of the way. This was the homemade creamy turkey and leek puff pastry pie. Firstly, we were told it was chicken. No big deal; easy mistake to make. But there was no real sign of any puff pastry, and it wasn’t really creamy. Really generous chunks of very tasty meat, yes, but all a bit modged together.

The other dishes were absolutely delicious, though. The steak burger was juicy and succulent and packed with flavour, the brioche barmcake was soft and sweet, the mozzarella topping was lovely and oozy, and the relish sharp and rich.

The tartlets beat it, though. These were packed with a beautifully mild but still powerful goats cheese and soft, sweet red onion, both sitting in crisp pastry cases. Fantastic textures and tastes.

Crumbed goats cheese and black pudding balls! It’s not often you find a dish that sounds like something Robin might exclaim to Batman, but there you go. That was another of the specials. It was simply gorgeous. The black pudding was meaty and peppery, and was gently softened down by the lovely, subtle goats cheese, the flavours blending perfectly inside a cracking crumb.

The dishes – all generous portions – came with beautiful salads of fresh leaves, sweet balsamic, chunky chick peas, and sharp relish. And special mention to the delicious chips.

We got our puddings to take away. The apple pie was well-filled and the pastry light and crisp. I wasn’t too fussed about the scone. It was nicely sweet, but there were too few raisins and it was a bit dry. On the plus side, it was massive. Best pudding was the chocolate and orange cake. The chocolate was good and bitter, the sponge was delightfully moist, and there was a real kick of orange.

Now, the chowder. I’ve never had chowder before. I might never eat anything else again. This was a dish to die for, and it’s easy to see why it’s a world champion. There was nothing about it that wasn’t simply great.

It can’t be easy to get this right, as the different ingredients all require different cooking times, but the white fish meat, the prawns, and the mussels were all done exactly right. The colour was soft and inviting and the broth was creamy, light, and fresh. It had all the flavours of the sea, but there was something else, too, a real savouriness that both lifted and gave great depth to the dish. A knockout.

Surprisingly, though, they don’t make too much of a fuss about it. But then, I guess, actions speak chowder than words.


Goats cheese tartlets €8.95

Angus steak burger €11.50

Chowder €5.50

Goats cheese and black pudding balls €6.50

Turkey and leek pie €10.50

Chickpea salad €3.50

Scone €1

Orange and chocolate cake; Apple pie €2.75 x 2

Diet Coke €1.60

Total: €54.55 (£48.81)