Life

Eating Out: Railway Tavern a warm and welcoming way station in winter

The Railway Tavern and Firebox Grill in Fahan, Co Donegal. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Dominic Kearney

The Railway Tavern

Station Road

Fahan

Co Donegal

00 353 74 936 0137

GREY, grim, and bleak, it couldn’t have been anything but a winter Sunday. The four of us decided to have lunch out on this day before Epiphany, to cheer ourselves up ahead of an afternoon of going through the funless ritual of taking down the Christmas decorations and hoovering up the pine needles, and then putting the vacuum cleaner away only to get it out again when we spotted the pine needles we missed the first time round.

All followed by the burning embarrassment of watching a team of children in red knock Everton out of the FA Cup. Who doesn’t love early January?

It was our first time at the Railway Tavern, the visit prompted by a story in the news about the recently redeveloped menu. It sits on the banks of the Swilly, next to the yacht club, hidden within a cluster of other buildings. At other times of the year, the setting would be full of bustle and charm but this felt cold and still and unwelcoming.

Once through the doors, though, and you can see all the charm and welcome has been saved for the inside. This is a lovely little pub and restaurant, tight and cosy, with little hints of its railway heritage on the walls and one massive hint of it in the form of an old, cast-iron engine in one of the rooms, a fire-breathing monster on which the steaks and chops are grilled.

The menu is one sheet only, clear and simple, mainly locally sourced meat and fish, with the odd exotic addition thrown in for good measure. And the service is friendly and full of understanding. Our server, seeing our toddler’s delighted reaction to the soup of the day being potato and leek, knew instantly to bring it as soon as it was ready, and suggested a bowl of creamy mash to go with it (provided free, like her ice cream). As a result, the little one was happily tucking in to the lovely, flavoursome soup, while the three of us waited for our mains to arrive.

My brother went for the supreme of chicken. The meat was beautifully cooked, soft, moist, tender, its delicate flavour lifted by the rich and salty velouté, which soaked nicely into the accompanying mash. The pan-roasted cod was almost terrific. Certainly, the fish itself was done very well – firm white flakes that melted in the mouth – but the skin was far too soft.

The greens that came with it were good, but there was precious little sign of the chimichurri, and I wasn’t sure the flavour of caramelised onion purée did the cod any favours. That same purée was dotted around my pork chop, and I feel the same comment applies, albeit to a lesser extent.

However, that would be my only complaint, because everything else about the dish was absolutely delicious. The meat was cooked to perfection, a beautiful combination of saltiness and a sweetness brought out by time spent on the grill. And I really enjoyed the Dauphinoise potatoes, which were soft, sweet, and very, very moreish.

As with the mains, the choice of puddings was relatively brief, but the quality was there in abundance. I could have done without the berry compote that overpowered the dish, but, taken alone, the pannacotta was delicate and refreshing, and the oats scattered over the top provided a simple and clever contrast of texture.

The brownie sundae was a thoroughly enjoyable glass of gooey, chocolatey fun, but I was unsettled by how good the sticky toffee pudding was, because I like to think I make the best sticky toffee pudding in the land, and now I feel I may have a challenger to the title. This was just gorgeous, a light, soft square of sponge sitting in and soaking up a pool of naughtily sweet sauce, each spoonful a delight to be savoured.

As joyless as it was outside, suddenly, winter seemed the only season worth having, so long as you could hibernate here.

THE BILL

(For four)

Pan-roasted cod, caramelised onion purée, buttered greens, chimichurri €21.95

Grant’s sugar pit pork chop, caramelised onion purée €19.95

Supreme of chicken, champ, smoked bacon and leek velouté €17.95

Leek and potato soup €5.95

Lemon pannacotta, red berry compote, caramelised oats €6.75

Sticky toffee pudding, butterscotch sauce, vanilla ice cream €6.75

Chocolate brownie sundae, honeycomb and vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce €6.75

Total: €86.05 (£73.45)

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