Life

Eating Out: Can Ireland's best fish and chips really be found in Ramelton at Johnny's Ranch?

Johnny’s Ranch, Gamble Square, Ramelton, Co Donegal
Johnny’s Ranch, Gamble Square, Ramelton, Co Donegal Johnny’s Ranch, Gamble Square, Ramelton, Co Donegal

Johnny’s Ranch,

Gamble Square,

Ramelton,

Co Donegal

THE holidays are over. Normal service has been resumed. Our holiday in Kerry seems a long way away. (Kerry, of course, is a long way away – this is both a literal fact, unless you’re actually in Kerry, in which case, it isn’t, and a state of mind).

It’s all too easy to fall into post-holiday blues, that mood of lassitude (a really good name for a dog toy, by the way) and torpor, with a dash of resentment at having to return to the quotidian grind.

There is a solution, however, which is to stop feeling sorry for yourself and fight to reclaim, if only for an hour or two, that holiday feeling, that sense of freedom and joy that only comes with being far from home in an exotic, mysterious locale.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying my brother and I took ourselves to Ramelton, where we sat on a bench by the river, eating fish and chips with our fingers, trying to convince each other that summer wasn’t over.

Of course, summer is over. The weather in Derry was even more miserable than Everton’s start to the season, and there was a spell on the drive to Ramelton where the rain dented a Gene Krupa drum solo on the roof of the Mazda.

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By the time we reached Ramelton, though, things had cheered up a bit. The sun hadn’t actually come out, but the clouds were bright, at least.

The other bright spot was that Johnny’s Ranch was open. And that made it bright enough to wear shades.

I’ve been meaning to try here for yonks now. Johnny, who runs the Ranch with his sister, Martina, was 10 years at Rathmullan House and another 10 at Belle’s Kitchen before starting up in Ramelton around five years ago. And, believe me, this is a man who knows his way around a deep fat fryer.

I should point out that Johnny’s Ranch is not an actual ranch, so don’t turn up expecting the High Chaparral or the Lazy S.

And it’s not a ranch house. It’s a chip van, basically. (I’m not going to call it a street food truck: it needs no hipster elevation). Actually, it’s not even a van. It’s a cramped trailer, which sits at the side of the River Lennon, open – at time of writing – from 4pm to 9pm, Tuesday to Sunday, plus bank holidays.

On one side of the van there’s a list of rewards received in recent years: All-Ireland Street Food of the Year; Ulster’s Best Burger; Best Independent Takeaway in Ulster.

Normally, I take these things with a pinch of salt (every butcher you pass seems to have an award for their sausages). But, in the case of Johnny’s Ranch, I can well believe it.

The menu lists exotic offerings such as tacos and stroganoff and stir fries. My brother and I went old school. His burger – two beef patties with salad and dressing in a brioche barmcake – was knockout. The meat, from the butcher a couple of minutes’ walk away, was moist and succulent and full of flavour, deep and rich. My fish and chips was better, though.

The fish – haddock, in this case – is delivered daily, fresh from the docks at Killybegs, and was perfectly cooked. Everything is fried to order, so the food doesn’t sit around, spoiling.

The batter, studded with cracked black pepper, was light and delicate and stayed crispy to the last mouthful. The chips were delicious. I’ve not managed to find a properly good fish and chip shop since moving to Ireland – and, believe me, I’ve tried – but I have now. This was as good as any I’ve had anywhere. It’s both a shame and a blessing that Johnny’s Ranch isn’t closer to home.

The portions, incidentally, are huge. The two women in front of me shared a single order. I scoffed at their restraint. I did a lot of scoffing that night.

As well as locals, Johnny’s Ranch gets a lot of customers passing through Ramelton as they return from holiday. I’d say, don’t wait. Go there specially.

Ramelton is a beautiful place, and the Ranch sits in a lovely spot by the river, opposite a bank crowded with trees, reaching over the waters of the Lennon. And the food’s brilliant.

THE BILL

Prices for two in euro:

Burger and chips - €10.90

Haddock and chips - €11.00

Bottle of McDaid’s Football Special - €2.00

Total: €23.90 (approximately £20.50)