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Restaurant review: Coll's Bar/Teac Coll

Magheroarty, Gortahurk, Donegal. Tel: 00 353 87 783 6415

The brother took his high-sided camper van to Magheroarty in Donegal on Friday the week before last. He brought with him a posse of nervous English visitors who followed him there in a hire car. These are not people to be easily frightened, but coinciding with their Donegal trip was Storm Ciara and that threw a whole new dimension over Ulster's wildest coast.

Suddenly, Donegal and the rest of the north was engulfed in monstrous winds, high tides were spilling over roads and anyone with any sense paid heed to the warnings to not "venture out unless your journey is absolutely necessary".

In fact, the storm was so bad that on the Sunday night the brother, normally courageous to the point of irresponsibility, decided to leave the van at our sister's house for fear that it could be cowped by the fierce westerly crosswinds. He travelled back to Belfast in a friend's car.

Imagine my surprise when, a week later, he asked me for a lift to collect his van. I mentioned the imminent arrival of Storm Dennis, a tempest of such devastating power that it made Ciara look barely capable of drying the washing. His answer was: "I'll take you for lunch in Coll's."

Teac Coll is one of those no-nonsense Donegal bar-restaurants. Perched on a brow, it overlooks miles of spectacular coastline, including Tory Island directly north over to Horn Head to the east.

The live music is good (this is an area blessed with some of the best musicians in Ireland), the stout and beers are clean and crisp and any loud voices or bad language are dealt with discretely and efficiently.

Coll's does its inn-on-the-coast thing very well. Families in the summer and older ones for the winter weekends. Its simple, wholesome and the voluminous dishes are a step back in time to when people continued their whispering in hotel restaurants long after they'd come out of Mass.

It's a family business and young Eddie Coll runs the place with charm and efficiency, the kind you'd expect in much posher places.

While Storm Dennis lifted people off their feet outside as they tried to photograph the crazy crashing waves on Magheroarty Beach far below, we settled at a table in the lounge next to the wood-burning stove and ordered alcohol-free Erdingers, Diet Cokes and water. It's the new Donegal.

A menu of options for Sunday lunch - three courses for €22 - includes classic starters: vegetable soup with wheaten, Cashel blue cheese salad with candied walnuts and pear, prawn Marie-Rose and BBQ chicken wings.

The brother's soup arrives accompanied by two large, dark-as-turf bricks of wheaten bread. The bread crumbles like cake and its delicate sweetness is a great foil for the spiced, salty soup. The measure of a good restaurant is sometimes its soup and this is a belting, blended big hitter full of flavour and depth.

My prawn Marie-Rose is perfectly serviceable, even if the prawns have travelled from far away (You could never expect fresh prawns or shrimp while storms rage at sea), but it's the salad it comes with which is most memorable. Fresh leaves and tomatoes are spiced up with thin rings of red onion and a quality vinaigrette binds it all together.

Haddock in a beer batter is generous and the chippy style has been perfectly emulated: brittle, golden batter and flaky pearly-white fish within.

Roast leg of lamb with gravy is well judged, tender, juicy and again generous in proportion. The sideshow of mash and root vegetables provides more evidence of great care and quality.

There is a veggie option of sweet potato and chickpea curry and there are other crowd-pleasers among the mains, including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with pepper sauce and roast stuffed turkey and ham.

We love it because Coll's does everything well. The service is slick and unobtrusive yet engaging and charming, the place is warm and welcoming and, unlike the weather, it's always reliable.

The bill:

Sunday lunch 3-course €22

Sunday lunch 2-course €18.50

Diet Coke €2.50

Zero Erdinger €4.50

Coffee €2

Total €49.50

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