I finally got out of the house on Saturday, which was a good thing as cabin fever was starting to set in. I had to go up to Lismore in Co Waterford, to do some interviews at the Immrama festival.
Got the interviews out of the way in the morning and having wound up the second one about quarter to one, I suddenly felt very hungry indeed.I knew I would be in Lismore all day – I was going to the sessions of the writers I’d interviewed – so I figured I’d have dinner later in the newly refurbished Lismore House Hotel.
No point in eating there twice I thought so I wandered down the street and went into the first pub I came to – Eamonn’s. Eamonn was behind the counter. I always take it as a good sign to find the person whose name is over the door is also the person dishing out the drinks, whatever about the grub.
Eamonn’s is a proper pub, not very big, kind of old-fashioned but without bicycles hanging on the wall and what I can only describe as all that shite you sometimes get in both rural Irish pubs and mockeeyah Oirish pubs.
“Have you any sandwiches?” I asked Eamonn. He regarded me dolefully. I half-expected him to say “No”. I smiled encouragingly at him. “We have soup and sandwiches,” he said before taking a deep breath and rattling off the full menu.
“We have soup homemade mushroom soup sandwiches toasted sandwiches cold plates you know cold plates with chicken and home-cooked ham or smoked salmon cold plates tea coffee and sweets.”
I don’t know when I last heard anyone refer to dessert as “sweets”. It was rather endearing. I opted for a chicken and ham cold plate and took a seat in the corner.
Maybe it was my copy of The Guardian, my too-trendy glasses or the overall cut of me but Eamonn had his doubts. He came over with cutlery.
“You know now the cold plate is a cold plate with salad and that?” he enquired.
“I do,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said.
The cold plate arrived. Three slices of home-cooked ham, another two or three of proper, home-cooked chicken, two segments of hard-boiled egg and another two of tomato, some carrot batons, coleslaw, potato salad, an apple and mayonnaise salad, all arranged atop leaves of butterhead lettuce. The plate was accompanied by three chunky slices of homemade buttered brown bread.
It was homely, straight-forward and delicious – apart, admittedly, from the apple salad, which was just rather odd. I had the sudden realisation that a cafe in Dublin (The Cold Plate Café, perhaps?) that served food like this would do a roaring trade. No ciabatta, no focaccia, no funny stuff at all – just a nice lunch like your granny would give you.
I had seen a sign for a beer garden so I retreated out there with my coffee and Cadbury’s Snack. Just like the cold plates, the beer garden was a hidden gem – four or five large shaded tables and a long sun-trap of a garden, surrounded by high and rather ancient-looking stone walls.
If you’re ever going to Lismore (and I’d recommend it – what an unexpectedly lovely town it is), I’d recommend a lunch in Eamonn’s. Have the cold plate and you won’t go wrong.
If you do go to Lismore, stay in the Lismore House Hotel, right in the middle of town. We were given the use of Room 104 for one of the interviews and it was really inviting. It felt comfortable and luxurious without seeming in any way “designed”.
I had my dinner there in the end, as planned. I ordered sesame-and-coconut-encrusted chicken in a Thai red curry sauce with basmati rice. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest, but it was a fine dish – appealing-looking and tasty. The chef had resisted overloading the plate, as his colleagues in the Irish hotel business are wont to do.
I washed it down with a glass of Chardonnay – recommended by the waiter – and a sparkling water. To round things off, I had apple tart. The buttery homemade pastry was full to bursting with cinnamony, melting apples. One cup of coffee later and I was a very happy woman. The meal cost €27, which I really thought was reasonable.
Incidentally, I’ve never met a waiter who was prouder to have his job. To my shame, I didn’t ask him where he was from – a former Eastern Bloc country at a guess – but he really took pride in his work. I overheard him telling the people at the next table that he loved working at the hotel. You could tell and it was charming.
The only odd thing was that he commented that he like to see women have dessert. Fair enough, so do I. Then he said, “You know, I ask some women ‘Would you like dessert, ladies?’ and they go ‘Hmm’ and ‘Hmm’ (he made faces to indicate their doing that whole Oh-really-I-shouldn’t thing) and then do you know what I say to them?”
“No,” I said.
He waggled his elbow at me. “I say ‘Bite me!’”
So that was slightly strange. Overall, thumbs up, though.