The good people of Longford don’t like to remember 2007.
2007, you see, was the year before Gary O’Hanlon took up residence in the kitchens of VM restaurant, the culinary powerhouse at the centre of James and Beryl Keaney’s lovely mid-18 century country house, Viewmount House.
And the culinary history of modern Longford divides into the pre-GO’H period, and the post-GO’H period, the pre-VM era and the post-VM era.
The latter period, historians will tell you, is when modern Longford found its culinary mojo. Thanks to Mr O’Halon and VM Restaurant, the county found a focus for socialising.
But it’s not just Longford that got in on the VM act. The surrounding counties deliver their hungry and eager diners down to Longford town also, which has meant that for the last nine years, Viewmount House has been where everyone goes to celebrate that significant birthday, that graduation, that anniversary, that good news.
Hell, people even come here to have dinner with their spouse.
You really cannot understate Viewmount’s importance to the Midlands. In creating one of the most significant modern destination restaurants, Mr O’Hanlon and Mr and Mrs Kearney have performed an inestimable service. And they have done it by offering superb hospitality, and great modern Irish cooking.
Mr O’Hanlon’s menus read straight ahead - on a Saturday night the main courses are chicken; fish; steak; venison; and fresh pasta for the vegetarian choice. But of course the vivid complexity of his cooking means that the ingredients are raised to stellar heights. The sirloin comes with a Crozier Blue gratin; turbot has a Bordelaise sauce and cavalo nero; the venison has a lovely prune and beetroot purée.
These graceful touches are rife throughout Mr O’Hanlon’s dishes: his signature anise and orange cured Thornhill duck confit with sweet potato; the lovely Clogherhead prawns with mango mayonnaise; the vodka-cured organic salmon with yuzu vinaigrette.
This lovely food results in one of the happiest – and busiest – dining rooms in the country: a standard Sunday lunch service in VM will be no fewer than 120 diners, for instance, and on the Saturday night when we had dinner both the dining room and the private dining room were jammers. Mrs Kearney’s team of staff are as good as it gets, charming and hard-working young folk who know their way around every aspect of the food game.
To get the best of VM, you really should also stay the night at Viewmount. Mr Kearney’s patient hunts through the auction rooms of Ireland makes for a house where every aspect of furnishing is apposite, appropriate, and understated. And their Boxty Benedict for breakfast is one of the nicest and most original things you can eat for breakfast anywhere in Ireland.
Viewmount House, Dublin Road, Longford 043-3341919 viewmounthouse.com