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A warm winter's welcome guaranteed at The Cedar Bar
After a long day, and wet wintry weather raging outside, it is undeniably tempting to shut the door and not move for the rest of the evening.
However I had arranged to meet a friend at The Cedar Bar in the Athlone Springs Hotel in Monksland for a meal, and to step into the welcoming warmth of the reception and be guided into a cosy corner spot in The Cedar Bar suddenly made it all worthwhile.
The comfortable casual seating instantly made for a relaxing start, and the quiet chat of other diners made for a relaxed atmosphere while we browsed the menu.
For starters, I was torn between the nachos with chilli con carne, jalapeno peppers, mozzarella cheese, guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream; and the goats cheese and walnut bruschetta, with smoked beetroot, grilled peppers and basil pesto.
In the end we both chose the bruschetta, which came beautifully presented on a white platter to best show off the colourful salad components. The goats cheese was satisfyingly tangy, arranged on bruschetta with just the right amount of crunch. Plenty of walnuts gave some good complementary chewy texture.
Wines to accompany the meal are available by the bottle and by the glass, and the Sauvignon Blanc turned out to be a good choice as it sat nicely with both the starter and the main course.
Main courses give plenty of scope - beer-battered fillet of hake or smoked Atlantic seafood pie with parmesan crust, both accompanied by pea puree and homemade chips seemed appropriate given the stormy weather, but I decided on the orange chicken and vegetable stir-fry on fresh egg noodles instead, in the hope that some exotic spice would warm the senses. My friend was of the same mind and went for the chicken and sweet potato korma with coriander scented rice and traditional naan bread. We could also have chosen comforting traditional shepherd's pie, steak, or a number of other dishes, but they would have to wait.
The chicken on its bed of noodles was nicely spicey but not overwhelming, with sesame seeds sprinkled on the stir-fry, and a crunchy poppadom on the side. The korma was fragrant and filling, with more than a token half-piece of naan bread which can be the case when you are also served rice. And the portion sizes were certainly generous.
Whilst we were eating our main courses, the bar table area started to fill up, with both families and couples, which was good to see on a midweek evening in November. The bar is warmly lit, and the walls are interestingly clad in light-coloured stone, making the whole room light and yet intimate.
Our waiter, who had expertly paced his attention so that we were neither rushed nor neglected, handed us the menu to choose dessert.
Cheesecake with vanilla cream and fruit compote, and a sticky toffee pudding were passed over in favour of wild berry Eton Mess and triple chocolate and mixed nut brownie with ice cream and chocolate sauce. Portion sizes were again generous, and the Eton Mess came in a tall sundae glass, filled well above the brim. It was quite sweet, but light too. The brownie came in a beautifully presented slice, balanced by the ice cream and a swirl of cream - hard to do it justice at the end of the meal!
Coffee and tea, including Irish coffee, Baileys coffee, green tea and fruit teas are available. Or you could finish with a cocktail or other drink, without having to move from a dining room to a bar.
The service and welcome at The Cedar Bar was excellent, and people lingered long after finishing their meals, a sure sign that it is a comfortable place to spend a wintry evening.