We call it The Blink Moment. It's that mili-second when you walk into a place and the immediate reaction of the staff determines whether you will stay or leave, whether you will have a good time, or not.
In Stonecutter's Kitchen, on the hill above Doolin village in west County Clare, they have The Blink Moment down to a fine art. They need to, because this is a busy restaurant and so, when people turn up and walk in, the chances are there won't be a vacant table.
Not a bother to the brilliant girls marshalling the room. They greet the arrivals immediately, hand them the menus, assure them that they will only have to wait a matter of minutes to get a seat and, having made them feel welcome, they get on with looking after everyone else in the room. The new arrivals relax, scan the menu, and enjoy the anticipation of what they are going to eat. Above all, the service from the young women has assured them that it's going to be worth the wait.
It's a masterly piece of restaurant craft and, for Stonecutter's Kitchen, it's a vital one: a seasonal, tourist-driven restaurant has to capture every customer they can, and make sure they have a good time. On that score, the Stonecutters has gas in the tank, for the food is tasty and accessible, the atmosphere is lively and sociable, and the staff are simply superb.
What the Stonecutters excels in is offering dishes that are familiar, but which they serve with their own twist. Simple things like fishcakes, and lentil burgers, and fish and chips, need to be done well, and here owners Karen and Myles anchor the cooking with excellent sourcing – lots of the best County Clare artisan foods – and by doing smart stuff like making sure the salad leaves are crisp and fresh, that the beef and Guinness stew is hearty and welcoming, that the bread and butter pudding is rich, that the ice creams for the youngsters are made nearby – on the Flaggy Shore! – by the brilliant Linnalla company.
Put the cooking and the service and the atmosphere in a century-old stone cottage, and you have a real winner, another of those idiosyncratic and charming ventures which form the backbone of the hospitality culture of County Clare.
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