Alan Kelly, The Sunday World
Things are not looking good. In fact, I’m beginning to think I may have got the address completely wrong.
“Are you sure this is where it is?” says the Boss as we anxiously scour the empty grounds around Carlow College on a windswept Thursday evening.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” I lie. “It’s just around the corner here!” But as this is about the fifth corner we’ve already rounded, I’m not feeling all that confident. Suddenly it’s there, hidden away almost under the shadow of the George Bernard Shaw Theatre. Lennons @ Visual sounds more graphic art studio than restaurant.
In fact, it’s an intriguing cosmopolitan venue within shouting distance of Carlow town centre. And believe me, you will want to shout about this place. It was their online menu that first reeled me in. A simple, easy-to-understand rendering of what’s on offer will always do it for me.
Usually that indicates a kitchen that knows precisely what it wants to do, and does it. And as soon as we tap into our starters we know we are about to enter untroubled waters.
The smoked trout pâté is a delicately infused fluffy pink purée with rustic bread, a few fresh leaves, and some acerbically fragrant pickled cucumber. A thing of beauty indeed that is rapidly and enthusiastically scoffed. We also love the full-flavoured scallops served in their shells and resting in puddles of comfortingly sweet garlic butter.
A strapping bowl of Moroccan lamb shank in a brooding tomato stew mildly spiked with harissa and peppered with chickpeas and dried apricots is the definition of what North African grub should taste like. It’s a strikingly delicious brew with everyday ingredients that, until this very evening, I never realised I was addicted to.
The couscous is also sheer magic – a crumbly buttery indulgence in a cute ramekin. Next up is perfectly cooked duck breast in a dark, intensely rich honey, soy, and five-spice sauce that’s good enough to slurp with a spoon – which I did, with gusto.
I realise we’re approaching benchmark territory here and even though the sauce might have worked better with boiled rice rather than green beans and salad leaves, it is still worth trekking to Carlow for.
I won’t go into detail about the desserts of Elderflower pannacotta with a zingy gooseberry compote, and a lemon posset with a citrusy shortbread biscuit, except to say they are both heavenly and what diets are dumped for. Nor do I want to sound over-the-top referential about Lennons @ Visual but this is, without question, one of the best restaurants I’ve found in quite some time.
Charming staff, uncompromising attention to detail, and four glasses of delightful tempranillo, made for a hugely memorable visit. And as we stroll back out into a crisp Carlow evening we talk about how lucky the natives are to have such a gem on their doorstep. Here’s hoping they avail of it.