Ardkeen Shopping Centre
Phone: 051 841 040
Lucky old Waterford, the urbs intacta. It has less than half the population of Cork and more good restaurants per capita. Loko is one of the more recent and significant additions to eating in the Suirside city. In a sense it seems to have arrived from sunnier, happier climes – although the commitment to local produce is huge.
I mean that it takes food very seriously but genuinely wants us all to have fun. That’s an attitude that’s still pretty rare on this island. The buzz at Loko and the underlying obsession with quality are now a big part of Waterford but it’s still a bit of an alien concept elsewhere.
It’s big, busy and bright, an all-day restaurant that manages to be all things to all people and really good. Which is quite an achievement. I mean how often can we say that? And it’s next door to the wonderful Ardkeen Stores, the Fortnum & Mason of Munster, (as I think of it) to boot.
So how do they do it? And is there are formula? I think it’s a case of commitment meets real skills with an added dimension of understanding that hospitality is all about making people happy.
Loko’s chef came south from Kilkenny’s Michelin-starred Campagne where Garret Byrne not only cooks amazingly refined and inventive food but has a knack of attracting and nurturing first rate talent.
The influence is very clear here. Some of the cooking is rigourously disciplined, measured and assured in a way that’s pure “fine dining” (to use that crude and rather annoying term). It’s particularly refreshing to encounter food at this level being democratised, served up with a smile instead of silly ceremony, made truly accessible.
But that’s only part of what Loko is all about. Consider the Loko staple for which I have been known to drive miles (a round trip of nearly three hours, I stress): Confit Skeaghanore duck wings.
They tell you so much. First of all, they are duck wings. Secondly, they are Skeaghanore duck wings, not any old ones. Thirdly, they are cooked slowly in their own fat and the tender meat scraped down the bone and cooked again to produce the crispest, chewiest, most intensely meaty wings I’ve ever tasted. And if that’s not enough umami (can we ever have enough umami?) there’s the sticky, hoisin-based sauce. And the cool, green crunch of scallions (as we and the Americans call spring onions). I could go on, but you get the picture.
Flatbreads are often an excuse for bad pizza. Not so here, from the impeccable bases to the imaginative toppings. They even raise the sandwich to appropriate heights of seriousness with colour, fun, creativity.
Salads are not thrown together; they are fully thought out, then created, often with delightfully surprising little touches that make all the difference.
And there’s always something rich, comforting and warming, like slow-cooked beef cheeks.
Loko is particularly child friendly and they have a kids’ menu that is not patronising: the fish fingers are homemade, the child’s size flatbread has a “spicy meat” option.
On a sunny day at Loko I can almost imagine that I’m in one of Bill Grainger’s places in Sydney – except, to be honest, some of the cooking is more ambitious. So yes, I reckon Loko is better overall.
And it’s not often that I can say that.