The challenge that all restaurants in rural areas face is that they need to provide for essentially two types of customer – those that are looking for a grand feed at a great price and those that might read a review on a site like this one.
I am in no way suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive and I realise that it could be argued that all restaurants attempt to achieve this balance. However a restaurant in a rural town like Rathdrum in County Wicklow really does need to attract everyone in the area plus as many blow-ins as they can manage.
Bates Inn opened their doors in 1785 and has existed in some form ever since so they must be doing something right. The building is long and stone clad and certainly feels like it has been there a long time but it may be like the 100 year old hatchet that has only had three replacement heads and 5 replaced handles.
On the mid-week night I visited with a fellow foodie there was a roaring fire and a diverse selection of punters from a young couple on a date to a man dining on his own to three sisters enjoying each others company.
Our waitress was friendly and welcoming and as soon as she had settled us by the fire brought us a basket of freshly made doughy and doughty foccacia served with a salty and tasty black olive tapenade and a tangy sun-dried tomato pesto as dips.
There is a strong Italian influence at Bates with a range of cured meats and pastas on the menu as well as more traditional fare such as duck, venison sea trout and pork fillet.
My Seafood Chowder was a huge bowl of creamy rich soup filled with mussels, crab claws, prawns and chunks of salmon and white fish. This was a meal in itself and packed with flavour - I did try not to eat it all but failed.
Gnocci were served in a tomato and basil sauce topped with melted buffalo mozzarella, once again a huge portion. The sauce was perhaps a little conventional in flavour I felt, but was still pronounced “hearty and tasty” by my guest.
For mains we opted for the lamb chops and rib-eye steak from the char-grill which is one of the house specialities. My four lamb chops were cooked pink as requested and tasted sweet and creamy – I picked the bones clean.
My guest's medium rare rib-eye was as big as a shovel and nicely charred with a rich pepper and brandy sauce. Our side dishes of creamy gratin potatoes, sauté mushrooms and buttered spinach proved to much for us but all tasted good. At €22.50 each for portions this big we really shouldn't have bothered with starters. Our bottle of Lamura Nero d'Avola from Sicily was another bargain at just €19.50 – juicy and fruity and a good match for the meat.
There was no way after this feast that we could manage two desserts but in the interests of research we shared a crème brûlée. Our waitress arrived with the dessert to the table and then with a flourish she drew a blow torch from a holster like some culinary gun-slinger and expertly caramelised the top. This could have been corny but we had already been charmed by her so we were delighted.
So we did indeed get a grand feed at a great price but this is exactly the kind of restaurant that readers of Bridgestone should know about. This is good quality tasty food, correctly cooked in a pleasant atmosphere that will please your granny, your bachelor uncle, your foodie friend or your hot date.
Bates Restaurant, Market Square, Rathdrum
Tel: (0404) 29988