Dinner in Detail Indefinably Irish
Pub grub has become something of an unknown quantity, in the past decade or so. What started out as the owner's best efforts at knocking up something quick, easy and tasty has reached the point where the main attraction for an establishment is now the food menu instead of the drinks menu. Some went the wrong way about it, offering a cornucopia of microwaved ready meals. The other type have become known as 'gastro pubs'.
O'Garas Irish Bar & Grill does not actually publicise itself as a gastro pub. It is, indeed, rather a risky term to include in your publicity because it sets very high expectations. Without setting them, though, the restaurant at Tara Court on Pratumnak Road meets them with consummate ease. The quality of the food goes well beyond what one would normally expect to see coming over the stout-soaked oak of an Irish pub.
The secret to good food is not such a big secret—least of all after every TV chef there is has said pretty much the same thing virtually every episode. All you need are good ingredients combined with the skill and knowledge to put them together properly. O'Garas' top-rate chef goes to great pains to source the best ingredients he can find, taking note of the opinions of the diners to maintain the optimum quality. There is no doubting his experience and ability to transform those basics into something really remarkable, either, whether it's the signature hand-made burgers or the vital necessity for an Irish pub—the Irish stew.
It is important, at this point, to say something about the Irishness of O'Garas. It is difficult to put a finger on exactly what differentiates an Irish pub from an English or British one. Is it the number of shamrocks dotted around the premises and the distinctive brogue of the barman as he greets you with a cheery “top o'the mornin' to ya” while tapping the brim of his lurid green top hat with his shillelagh? Probably not. That sort of “Oirish” fakery generally puts off the punters—especially the Irish ones. Certainly the ownership and management makes a difference, but a bar may change hands and become owned by a person of a different nationality without necessarily losing its charm.
The atmosphere is an integral part of any pub experience and is probably the hardest thing to create. Again, it is difficult to explain exactly what gives a place a good atmosphere. The décor has a lot to do with it, which is why spraying shamrocks everywhere so rarely works—it creates an atmosphere of contrivance and cartoon-like falseness. The people are also important, both the servers and the patrons. Get the right crowd in and the atmosphere will make itself. As for how you actually achieve that? That is a mystery known only to successful pub owners. Campbell Muirhead of O'Garas appears to know that secret as his place has a relaxed, friendly and jovial feeling to it—the sort of feeling that makes a pub truly Irish.
Ireland is not known for its food in the same way France and Italy are. The cuisine of the entire British Isles is generally robust and substantial, which are easily the best words to describe the Cream of Mushroom Soup. Not at all ideal as a photographic subject, its appearance conceals a flavour which is as distinctive as it is delightful. It is almost meaty in both flavour and texture, demonstrating the use of high-quality mushrooms and high-quality cooking.
Less typically Irish, perhaps, is the pan-friend duck breast with orange sauce. It remains just as profound with its flavours, though; them being about as subtle as...well, as an Irishman! The orange sauce is more orange in colour and flavour than any other this reviewer has ever come across, the vegetables are served crunchy and fresh and the potatoes are served however you choose (there's only so much you can say about potatoes). The duck, naturally, is where the dish really shines. Perfectly cooked, being just the right shade of pink in the middle, the orange sauce really makes the flavour snap.
With O'Garas not listed as a gastro pub, you need not fear gastro pub prices. Both the drinks and the exceptional food are served at a price which not just reasonable, but remarkable given the quality. And they are served with a smile which may be generally Thai in origin, but is certainly Irish in nature.