by Sean Hillen
Literature’s golden rule ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ applies equally well to restaurants sometimes.
Take ‘The Bistro,’ for example, in Gorey, a lively market town in county Wexford in Ireland’s sunny south-east about an hour’s drive from Dublin.
Seen from the outside, it’s a fairly mundane-looking place – tucked between a beauticians, an opticians and a pharmacy and across from a post office, with a plain glass facade and the restaurant’s name on a black and white sign across the front.
But inside, oh my goodness, such intimacy and elegance, plus a welcoming and lively atmosphere, evidence of satisfied customer loyalty over the restaurant’s 11-year lifespan.
Credit for this success goes to friendly husband and wife owners, James and Tina Bursey, the former being the executive chef and the latter, a native of Dublin who moved here 24 years ago, working the floor and seeming to know every customer by first name.
A former kebab shop, the couple took it upon themselves to renovate and re-design the interior. It was a tough six weeks of hard-work.
While there’s a sample menu on the restaurant’s website, the couple proudly boast it changes each day “depending on locally sourced produce.” It’s not an idle boast. Speaking with Tina ahead of our reservation and asking her for that evening’s fare, she apologised, saying she hadn’t gone to the market yet. That intrigued me. So I booked. My companion and I were delighted.
Parking was easy, right across the street near a crossroads on the road into Gorey from Wexford town, just before the Main Street turn-off.
Once inside, we immediately felt comfortable and at ease. For it’s a homely setting, warm and cosy, the atmosphere uplifting with a mix of clients that particular evening including large groups of six and more, old acquaintances by the sound of cheerful banter emanating from their tables, as well as young and older couples. Food and drink specials are handwritten in chalk on blackboards.
The menu is not overly lengthy but it is wide-ranging. An impressive seven starters and ten mains. Fish lovers and carnivores won’t be disappointed. Hard to be when you’re faced with choices such as Dublin bay prawns, beef in a shredded veg stir fry or naturally smoked, oven-baked hake with spring onion and cream – and that’s just a few of the starters.
Among the seafood mains were cod in blackened Cajun spices; pan seared sea bass with citrus salsa; fillets of John Dory with leek and wild mushroom sauce; paupiettes of sole stuffed with fresh crab, langoustines prawns; and eggplant parmigiana and scallops in white wine, garlic, onions and chilli, finished with a cream sauce.
As for meat eaters, how does chicken supreme sautéed on a bed of champ and drizzled in a creamy lemon and thyme sauce sound? Or pork tenderloin with burnt apple purée, dauphinoise potatoes and red wine jus? Of course, you could always try land and sea and go surf ’n turf – that’s medallions of fillet steak stacked with pan fried monkfish and tiger prawns in garlic butter. My companion, being somewhat out of the ordinary, chose kidneys, which came in a creamy, velvety reduction and as she said “filled her mouth with a rich umami flavor.”
Our monkfish slept in a chablis sauce, its flesh so tender it seemed as it had been whipped like cream, proof not only of its ‘fresh-from-the-sea’ flavor but the skill in not over-cooking. It was accompanied by Provencal-style vegetables, tiny morsels with herbs that, according to my poetic companion, “seem to have been cooked separately, then brought together like in a choir, to sing together.”
Be aware of the sign that says ‘Sweet Tooth.’ The kitchen’s desserts are hard to resist. We managed to do so but only because we had to rush to Wexford town. Next time, definitely we won’t.
As for service, Valery, our waiter from Normandy, living a decade in Ireland, couldn’t have been more pleasant. With a tight time limit, due to an evening show we had reserved an hour’s drive away, we were delighted at how prompt our food arrived to table.
Next time you’re in Wexford, try The Bistro. But make sure to book ahead. It’s very popular.