Food & DrinkGrub Spy

In the old days, food like this would have seemed like a starvation-induced hallucination

Grub SpyBy Alan Kelly
The Headfort Arms Hotel
The Headfort Arms Hotel

Things are not going well. I’ve just erased my Vanilla Pod copy.

No idea what happened – one minute its all there on screen, the next whammo - gone. I thump a few buttons, eff and blind a bit, then stomp off for a manly sulk.
 
As a rule, in case any North Korean secret agents hack their way through Grub Spy’s firewall thingy, I encrypt and save everything. But today is just one of those days; when my aging head struggles with computer witchcraft and I start lamenting about how everything worked better in the past.
 
Truth be told, not an awful lot was better in the past, especially restaurants. The worst offenders were hotel restaurants where crimes against food were committed on an hourly basis, and the smell of cleaning fluids competed with the pong of boiled-to-bits cabbage and shriveled bacon. Ok, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but not by much.   
 
The Boss and I were chatting about this when we were in Kells recently. We were recalling our many stop-offs in the old Headford Arms for humongous, old-fashioned lunches.
 
It’s all change now, of course. And what a dramatic reformation. The restaurant is now called Vanilla Pod. It has turned into a shiny, hip eatery staffed with people who are the very model of cheery welcome.
 
After browsing a thoughtful menu, we start with scallops, black pudding and a creamy cauliflower purée, and a fig and goats cheese tartlet with a honey dressing. The scallops are well cooked and the purée smooth and tasty. Sadly though, the black pudding, while delicious, overwhelms the delicate flavour of the scallops. The goats cheese tartlet is the nadir of the meal. Dry, tasteless pastry and dry, tasteless goats cheese, along with figs that were, you gussed it, dry and tasteless. 
 
A pointless faff of rocket and an eensy-weensy splash of the dressing doesn’t have any chance of saving the day.  
 
A main course of roast halibut is right up my street. It’s the best a fishmonger can offer and a chef can cook, and although it arrives with buttered asparagus instead of buttered leeks, and tiger prawns instead of the trumpeted langoustines, it is lick-the-plate delicious all the same.
 
The Boss really enjoys the crispy nibblage of the duck confit skin and the side of cabbagey bok choy. It could maybe do with a bit more of the bitter/sweet orange sauce reduction, but she gets along without it.
 
We share a side of under-seasoned garlic potatoes that have been reheated close to oblivion. Pity, since they don’t taste half-bad when cooled down.
 
We finish with a shared dessert of thyme-scented baked peaches and ice-cream. Mysterious though how a kitchen manages a full-on ‘bake’ in about two-and-a-half minutes. Still, the end result makes us sit up and pay proper attention.
 
In the bad old days, food like this would have seemed like a starvation-induced hallucination - and here am I picking critical holes in cheese tartlets and thyme-scented baked peaches, if you don’t mind. Well, all I can say is “vive la révolution”... or words to the effect.
 
Verdict: 4/5