Ardkeen Shopping Centre
Phone: 051 841 040
Irish Daily Mail
9 July 2016
Waterford City. The urbs intacta. It’s one of my favourite parts of Ireland and I’ve known it well for years. These days I live on the border at the far end of the County where the Déise merges imperceptibly with Cork. There’s even a sign, if you’re heading eastwards, that says, rather implausibly, “Welcome to Ireland’s Sunny South East”.
I have family in Waterford and my children went to school there. In fact, now that they are all of voting age, we really miss the weekly school run that always involved stocking up at Ardkeen Stores.
How can I describe Ardkeen Stores? It looks uncannily like a supermarket – and indeed it functions as one – but the food and the wine on sale there are exceptional. There are tomatoes from Grantstown, cheeses that have been given the care of a true affineur from Sheridan’s, delicacies from Sally Barnes’s Woodcock Smokery, free range pork from Crowe’s Farm, fish from Dunmore East and much, much more. The wine selection equals that of some of the best independent wine merchants in the country and the staff are so proud of being part of the place that they seem to glow.
Yes, Ardkeen Stores is a very special place. In fact, it’s unique. And even now I occasionally drive for an hour and a quarter to shop there.
When Loko opened on its doorstep – and, effectively, in its car park – I expected good things. However, a lunch of flabby chicken wings and detumescent squid rings left me disappointed and I didn’t go back until last weekend.
The reason? I’m always willing to give restaurants a second chance (some restaurants don’t let me, of course) and I had heard that Loko’s current chef hails from Michelin-starred Campagne in Kilkenny.
The difference was vast. This is a big, busy, bright restaurant that aims to operate right through from breakfast until late. It’s a neighbourhood kind of place, as the name implies, so it needs to be, in a way, all things to all people. On my first visit, the menu was huge; this time it’s tight, clever and still ticks all the boxes.
But the key difference is the quality of the cooking. It has been transformed.
Needless to say, we had to see how the squid rings had come along. The answer is brilliantly. Lightly crumbed, perfectly crisp, not oily and – best of all – amazingly tender, almost meltingly so. Full marks. The salad on which they were bedded was considered: lovely mixed leaves, mandolined cucumber and carrot with a gentle dressing.
We also tried the wings but no ordinary chicken wings. They were confit duck wings from Skeaghanore in West Cork, big and meaty but, thanks to long cooking in duck fat, the flesh came away from the bone with the greatest of ease. They were crisp, tender and bathed in a tart, spicy sauce that cut their richness. Plump raisins, tasting of mild curry spice, were an inspired addition along with the more conventional crunch of scallion. I would travel a long way to eat such wings.
One of the lunch specials was straight out of a very classical and upmarket restaurant: turbot with peas, asparagus and lobster bisque. It dressed down a little, so to speak, for the occasion by being a lot more generous in size than in any Michelin-starred establishment. In fact, it was a vast portion but the really memorable thing was the execution: fish cooked á point, the asparagus retaining a crunch, the peas partly whole, partly turned into an intense, buttery purée, the lobster bisque (with bits of actual lobster) rich, lobstery, profound.
Frankly, it was sensational. It would have been great anywhere. In an informal, local, all-day restaurant, it was amazing.
Flatbread with pulled confit duck (you may be detecting a personal weakness here) was a very different affair but, in its own way, a triumph. The meat was packed with flavour, the hoisin or Chinese plum sauce seemed to be either made in house or may have been a very superior proprietrary version, slices of pickled cucumber added bursts of acidic crunchiness and whole thing was the antithesis of lazy, formulaic cooking.
So rich was it that we took half of it home with us and finished it next day for breakfast.
The possibility of having a dessert, even a forensic sample of one, was out of the question. The generosity of the food here meant that we actually considered skipping our evening meal in favour of some salad leaves. Yes, that generous.
Our bill, with one glass of Albarino, a bottle of San Pellegrino mineral water and and one coffee came to an eminently reasonable €69.50 excluding service.