Brocka on the Water certainly shreds the rule book.
It’s a restaurant set in a family home. It’s a considerable drive from any decent customer base. It doesn’t take cards and, despite the name, is a good five minute stroll from the waterside at Kilgarvan Quay.
Despite all of this, Anne Gernon’s restaurant is one of the hottest word-of-mouth properties in the lakelands. Mention that you’re travelling around Lough Derg, as I did recently, and locals, hoteliers, guidebooks and Twitter are all likely to return it as a recommendation.
Brocka is a unique restaurant, certainly. MF and I pull up to find a toasty glow emanating from the French windows. Inside, a reception room is lavishly furnished with leather sofas, heavy curtains, a piano, fireplace and books on subjects as diverse as aphrodisiacs and Irish butchery.
The menu is handwritten, which is nice, but difficult to read in places, which isn’t.
Starters include Cooleeney cheese croquettes, roast and smoked salmon with a brandy mayonnaise and roll mop herrings served with goats’ cheese and salad. We linger a little in this unusual room, before following a waitress through to our table in the conservatory-like extension.
The starters arrive quickly. I go for the herring, which is pickled in lemon, olive oil, vinegar and herbs, and coiled up like snakes on the plate. There’s a delicious tang to the fish, just the right amount of vinegary bite. The salad is simple, fresh and full of flavour. Everything is drawn from the garden, Anne tells us – even the watercress has been picked locally by her son.
MF goes for the Cooleeney croquettes, made from the local Irish brie, and it’s another lovely, rustic presentation, this time with homemade chutney. We’re excited about the mains.
The dining room is another strange space. Wooden tables and chairs are surrounded by hanging quilts, dried hydrangea, sage-green walls and a mix of lamps and cushions that bring an atmosphere of exoticism and even decadence to this Tipperary homestead. Bridgestone plagues are used as trivets. The serviette ring is a little silver cat. Wine is drunk from goblets.
In the midst of all of this, our chatty waitress wears skinny jeans, and the kitchen door opens to reveal kids’ drawings on the fridge. I’m torn between weird and wonderful, but our fellow diners, which include several groups of friends, are happy tucking into their huge portions.
And the portions are huge. A pan-fried sirloin steak and a seared duck breast are our choices from a list of mains that also includes a baked sea bass dish, pork medallions with a plum and clove sauce, and a sautéed chicken breast with root ginger honey and cream. Both are enormous.
MF proclaims his steak to be ‘spot on’. My duck is nicely seared, the skin is crisp all the way through, and roast spuds, heavy-handled steak knives and a steaming dish of garden veg dial up the hearty, homespun feel (Anne tells us that her biggest influence is her mother).
We’re happy with a bottle of the house red, a 2008 Domaine de Fabregues L’Oree Rouge from Bordeaux (€22), and there are no complaints about the desserts – a meringue with fresh fruits for me, and a summer fruit crumble for MF, both served with homemade ice-cream.
There’s no point trying to figure Brocka on the Water out, MF concludes. One should just go and enjoy it (and he has, several times). I agree that there is some flair amidst all the eccentricity, that the food is simple and tasty, and it says a lot that the restaurant is busy.
In the cold light of day however, it costs too much. Three courses (with bread and coffee) are priced at €52.50. To put that in context, the three-course set dinner at Dublin’s One Pico costs €38, and a three-course lunch at two-Michelin Star Patrick Guilbaud’s costs €48.
MF and I end up in lively debate, typified by our reactions to the fact that Brocka doesn’t accept credit cards. Not only that, but Anne chooses not to warn people on the phone beforehand. Instead, she asks guests who don’t have sufficient cash to post a cheque afterwards.
I’m all for shredding rule books. Just don’t expect everyone to like the results.
Two three-course dinners with wine came to €135, before the tip.
Kilgarvan Quay, Co. Tipperary; 067 22038
This review originally ran in The Irish Examiner.