Bates Restaurant is in the middle of Rathdrum village, just off the old market square, in a little laneway that runs down the side of the Cartoon Inn. Every building along its short length has been renovated, the stonework looks great, and the whole thing looks as though a single theme binds it all together.
Inside, it's warm and cosy and it has a kind of bucolic charm; you sense that the floor isn't quite level, the walls not quite square. Simple tables and chairs are arranged with enough space between them for a modicum of privacy and the dining area covers two rooms, one on a lower level than the other.
It was very busy when we arrived, and most of the tables are occupied. Sunday lunch here is obviously very popular. We arrive as a threesome, myself, wife Deirdre and our friend Maureen, who is currently one of the best and brightest in the practice of law in Ireland.
The menu has clearly had a lot of thought put into it. The first thing you notice is that almost every ingredient has a provenance and many of the ingredients are organic. The second thing you notice is that there's a very European feel to the menu, almost Italian but not quite. After that it’s just the sheer choice, and the quality of the dishes.
The Sunday lunch menu comes in two parts, first the main menu, and there is a dedicated vegetarian menu (see below) which would give any vegetarian restaurant a run for its money. We all three being in the mood for meat or fish, we stuck with the main. The menu is priced at two courses for €19.50 or three for €24.50, which is always comforting in these more money conscious times – you know going in what it’s going to cost.
Starters include Bates seafood chowder, pan fried sardines, buffalo mozzarella and pot of steamed mussels. Next is a pasta and risotto section, and the dishes here can be served as starters of main courses and included a smoked haddock risotto with Arborio rice, or tagliatelle with pancetta and peas, or homemade ravioli with butter and sage.
Main courses offered homemade venison sausages with horseradish mash, roast chicken breast with sautéed mixed mushrooms and jus, Irish pork belly or char-grilled strip loin steak. The seafood options were pan fried sea bass filets with baby spinach, baked rainbow trout or traditional fish and chips.
We shared some very nice homemade bread and sipped our sparkling water while we waited, and all the while the last few tables filled up. There were a lot of family groups, and what we took to be Sunday regulars, what with their big welcome and speedy ordering.
Starters brought the Wicklow crab cakes for Maureen, and they were excellent, lots of sweet crab bound with some potato, they were a seafood delight. Deidre started with the Caprese salad; excellent fresh Buffolo mozzarella flown in from Italy, tasty tomatoes and tangy basil was perfectly judged. I asked for a seafood pasta to start and was wowed with a black squid in spaghetti with roasted prawns, butterflied but still in their shells in a serious lobster bisque sauce. This dish was simply wonderful, and was off the A la Carte menu. In fact it was so good I asked Boris to cancel my steak and choose a main course for me, whatever he thought from the dinner menu.
Main courses were even better, Deirdre’s smoked haddock risotto was perfectly cooked, and the fish flavour was intense and satisfying. Maureen had the spiced venison sausages which were lovely, but the horseradish mash that came with them was devine, and is something that will be making an appearance at home the next time a roast beef is on the table.
I ended up with thinly sliced, pink duck, with spiced broccoli and handmade roasties on the side. It is difficult to know which of these dishes was the best, but suffice to say this was a Sunday lunch that will take some beating.
We have long been fans of Bates and it was consistently one of Paolo’s favourite restaurants, indeed his best in Wicklow. If anything it is getting better, this was the best Sunday lunch we have eaten in at least a year, and the value for money is exceptional when you factor in the quality and choice. If you haven’t been here, it is definitely worth the trip.
**Vegetarian menu. Although we didn’t eat off it I can tell you from experience the dishes on it are brill. I had actually forgotten how good it is, and fortuitously we have some friends coming over for a visit soon who are vegetarian, so now I know where I will be taking them. They may enjoy a starter of poached pear, gorgonzola and walnuts with a honey dressing or asparagus and parmesan topped with a fired hens egg or maybe they will pick the wild mushroom risotto or the potato gnocchi with melted mozzarella.