Athlone has a buzz about it. Unlike many other provincial towns, hard hit by the economic crisis and slow to recover, Athlone seems to have found its mojo. Walk along the main strip of the town that leads to the bridge over the Shannon, and new openings and new renovations are bringing energy to the town centre.
Which means Feargal and Fiona O'Donnell have chosen just the right time to bring their feted Fatted Calf restaurant into the centre of the action.
They have a lovely, glass-walled building for their new home, following five hugely successful years in a country charmer of a pub out in Glasson village. The menus are rooted in excellent local produce, from starred suppliers such as Lough Boora Farm and Marty's Mussels, but this isn't provincial cooking. Instead, a terrine of ham hock will find itself as a starter beside Dublin Bay prawn wontons with a pineapple and pomegranate satay, and scallops will come with balsamic strawberries whilst chicken with Killinure leeks will also feature fermented barley.
Where Mr O'Donnell does more straightahead dishes, he still likes to riff on them and get a little funky, so John Stone 30-day sirloin will have duck fat bearnaise, and pork belly with Lisduff white pudding will have a lovely roast onion cream. The cooking is both robust and delicate, and it hits the spot effortlessly.
Fiona O'Donnell minds front-of-house with calm authority and, if there is a buzz about Athlone, it's most likely because there is a buzz about The fatted Calf. Just look for that red neon sign.