There are times when I think that I'm a lucky man. As a journalist I get to do a fair bit of foreign travel, something that I enjoy. I get a thrill from going to countries that I've never been to, experiencing new places and new customs, enjoying new foods and new sights. Even returning to countries that I've already visited is a pleasure, not for the novelty but for the change from the daily routine.
But change of this kind doesn't need to be found abroad. Exploring parts of Ireland can be just as invigorating. A trip to the West or the South is to discover another world for denizens of the capital. As the old saying goes, when it's 12 o'clock in Dublin, it's still 1975 in the West. It's a little like time travel; you get to go a place where people still have time to talk, where life is still unhurried, where human interaction is still important. You can almost feel the cares and pressures of the city's daily life lift from your shoulders as the wild, mountainous landscapes envelop you into their Celtic mist.
A few weeks ago I was doing what I love, just driving the lesser-known roads of Kerry. This time it was the Kerry side of the Beara peninsula, heading south from Kenmare. If you keep the sea to your right you'll end up following a narrow but spectacular road that follows every nook and cranny of the Kenmare River estuary. I was travelling with Marian Kenny when we pulled up in Bunaw by Killmakilloge Harbour to stretch our legs. A cold Atlantic mist coupled with a soft drizzle drove us into the public house where we ordered a little aperitif to break the journey. Marian drinks slowly and when it was time to go she still had wine in her glass. Sure, take it with you,' said our host, I've plenty more glasses.'
So with her drink in hand we drove on to Lauragh where the spectacular Healy Pass road begins. We didn't take this high road though, we took the low road to Glanmore Lake. I have to admit that we weren't being intrepid, we weren't exploring blind, we'd been given directions to Josie's Lakeview House. We hadn't come the most direct route and arrived from the north, which gave us an amazing view of the lake. The heavily wooded mountains come precipitously down to the lake shore, which might well have reminded me of a northern Italian lake had the mist not been so thick.
Josie's is aptly named, it does have fantastic views of the lake. It's a modern bungalow which the eponymous Josie has slowly converted into a restaurant. From a few tables in her dining room it's grown bit by bit and with the recent addition of a conservatory it now seats about forty-five people. We sat at a table in the conservatory and had a splendid view of the lake. As we read our menus it became clear that Josie's is very cosmopolitan. Three tables around us were speaking in three different languages; so off the beaten track as it may be, it seems that it's well-known enough to bring in tourists.
The menu mostly lists the sort of straightforward dishes that you'd associate with the best of home cooking. The starters listed smoked salmon, breaded garlic mussels, crab claws, deep-fried Brie, egg mayonnaise, prawn salad and a more adventurous roast quail, all of which clustered around the 10 mark. Main courses were divided between meats and fish, the meats being various steaks, rack of lamb, chicken, duck and pork. The fish dishes were salmon, cod, black sole, monkfish, John Dory, crab claws and scallops, like the meats all priced between 17 and 24. Marian decided that just one course would be sufficient for her and she chose the rack of lamb. I've been convinced for a long time that the South and West are where you get the best seafood, so I chose the prawn salad to begin and one of the daily specials, brill on the bone at 21, for my main course.
The wine list was short enough to make choosing easy, so I picked a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc which was listed at 22. There was no need to order mineral water as a jug of iced water came with the bread. A jug of water on the table was once standard and I wish it still was, most restaurants these days don't supply water as matter of course and some even expect you buy quarter bottles of water, an absurdity I'd love to see banned.
My prawn salad was big. I had a pile of firm, fresh prawns with a traditional Marie-Rose sauce atop. It was simply prepared and good. The main courses were clearly designed for people with big appetites. Marian had a plate in front of her that had a three-chop rack of Kerry lamb and on the table there were flats with chips, purée carrots, mashed potato and green beans. I had a large brill on the bone, cooked to perfection, very fresh and served with a slice of lemon and a salad. The amount of food on the table would have fed us several times over, so if you come to Josie's, bring your appetite.
The main courses left us totally replete so there was no thought of desserts. Instead we sipped our wine and admired the lake as the crepuscular light of evening settled over it. Josie's restaurant is a surprise; it's in a remote glen far from the larger centres of population and yet even early in the season it was full of people who'd come for the simple, well-made food. The bill for the evening came to a modest 78.