I recently visited my friend Roisin – she who is almost always right – in Portlaoise. After a very weird and busy morning we remembered to eat, and Mr. Fussypants here demanded “something special”.
Hmmm… something special in Portlaoise? Where would that be now? Roisin immediately steered me towards The Bank House, a family-owned restaurant which occupies an old home in the town.
It’s as charming from the outside as it is inside. The old family kitchen is now the restaurant kitchen, and the food that emerges both tastes and looks home-cooked. The two reception rooms with fireplaces, as well as the spacious landing, form the dining rooms, while there’s also an outside seating area. Inside, we were greeted by the smiley owner, who knew Roisin as a local and a regular customer, but my eyes immediately fell on the very tempting cake display that sits just inside the door.
The main menu, I noted as we sat by the fire, is more or less centred around the old reliables: fish and chips, meat and veg, lasagna, chicken wings, steaks, stuffed chicken breasts. It could easily be the recipe for a very dull meal.
These old reliables, however, constitute good food, cooked well, and served at reasonable prices. The chicken wings had crisp skin and a sticky, sweet sauce that hit my sweet spot. A Sunday roast sirloin of beef served with excellent Yorkshires and seasonal vegetables could be slightly improved by the addition of roast rather than mash potatoes, but it was nonetheless a big, hearty, tasty portion that felt genuinely home-made.
The Bank House also has a tapas and Mexican menu. The tapas, like all the food here, were somewhat like what you’d be served by a good friend, or an amazing aunt who happens to be excellent cook, in their own fancy dining room. Ro’s Oven Baked figs wrapped in back bacon with tossed almonds, honey , smoked paprika and rocket and blue cheese dressing were a sweet, salty, tangy treat, although the dressing lacked depth and was a little superflous. She raved about her mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce, which went well with the rather substantial Miniature Sirloin steak with garlic and herb butter on warm ciabatta bread.
Proving that choice may be the enemy of happiness, we tormented ourselves over the substantial cake collection and soon mutually rejected my idea of sharing one dessert. I think €6 is unjustified for a slice of lemon drizzle cake – although it was very good, it was slightly dry in parts. Roisin’s tiramisu was far more successful – not too booze-soaked and with plenty of sweet, creamy and moist flavour.
The bill for one starter, three tapas (one of which, the steak baguette, could have constituted a lunch in itself), a main, two glasses of house wine, two desserts, and a coffee came to €66.40. It’s not the cheapest of cheap eats but it is very good value and a thoroughly pleasant place to eat.
There’s a really friendly, homey vibe in The Bank House, and it’s open for lunch, afternoon tea, a quick cup of coffee with some desserts made fresh on the premises, or dinner. Dinner prices are a bit more expensive, but you can still get a reliably decent main for around €15-20. I also gave them a nod in my recent Irish Times Pricewatch article. The owners of this little spot are building a very lovely and welcoming little oasis in Portlaoise; as a Dubliner, I’m jealous.
I don’t really know of any other particularly good spots around Co. Laois, but I’m very eager to pay a third visit to The Bank House. Readers, any other suggestions?