| 10.4°C Dublin

Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant



O'Connor's Seafood Restaurant

O'Connor's Seafood Restaurant

It's a product of age, I think, that thing when your memory concertinas events into an ever-shortening span. I ask myself, when was I last in London? Must have been, let me see, two years ago.

More investigation reveals that it was in fact five years since I was there, not two.

So when the question arose, when was I last in Bantry, I doubled my original guess from four years ago to eight. Not a bad guess, but it turns out to be 10 years ago, in 2002.

So, 10 years ago after an Elton John concert in a rainy Killarney, I found myself in O'Connor's Seafood Restaurant in Bantry.

Looking back at what I wrote at the time, what struck me the most forcibly was that, back then, the meal for four of us was just over €200.

Here we are 10 years later and that's still the sort of money you'd spend for four people. So it's not just houses that have gone back 10 years in price.

Bantry is a pretty town in West Cork, spread out along the seafront. There's a large square, perhaps more oval in shape than square, that delineates the town centre and it's on this square that you can find O'Connor's.

It's been a seafood restaurant for more than a decade, although not always in the same ownership.

It's changed hands again recently and now the chef/patron is Pat Kiely, who, back in 2008, was head chef in O'Connor's when it won seafood restaurant of the year.

I know it's a theme I bang on about, but it is a little strange that you have to go to the south or west coast to find seafood easily.

Yes, I know there are seafood restaurants in Howth, but when you consider how many people live on the east coast, it's surprising how few restaurants there are serving seafood there.

What makes seafood so attractive for me is that it can be served simply. It's probably more true to say it should be served simply.

If you have, for example, a sea bass straight from the sea, why would you want it to taste of anything other than sea bass? You can let top-quality ingredients speak for themselves.

But if what you have to hand is a few days old and the odd whiff of ammonia is rising from it, now is the time to smother the fish in a very tasty sauce. Learn to be suspicious of fish dishes that are overly complex.

I was booked into the very chic and smart Maritime Hotel, a couple of hundred yards from O'Connors. To tell the truth, I really wasn't expecting to find such a stylish hotel, but I was much impressed by it.

Clean lines, uncluttered expanses of marble, good service and a friendly welcome -- all things that you like to find in hotels, but not what you often find in small provincial towns.

From here, it was a short walk to meet Gerard Carthy in O'Connor's for dinner.

I arrived to find a full restaurant and Gerard already in conversation with Jack McCarthy, a fifth- generation master butcher from Kanturk.

There's almost no kind of charcuterie that he doesn't make, so it was a real joy for me to be able to talk at length about prosciutto, salami, air-dried beef and lamb, and how to ensure a steak is as well aged as it can be.

After that, we settled in to eat.

On the night there was a set menu with five courses, which began with a seafood chowder. It was the kind of chowder that I like -- that's to say with a good variety of fish, both smoked and unsmoked, plus the occasional shellfish.

Unusually it was served with brioche, which went rather well with it. A good start to the meal.

The next course was described on the menu as 'Jack McCarthy's wild-boar black pudding with Ardsallagh goat's cheese'.

I looked across the table. "So that's from you, Jack, is it?" I asked, and indeed it was, made from wild boar raised near him in Kanturk.

It was a simple dish, but a dish that says a lot about where restaurant food is heading these days -- a combination of artisan-made elements and sourced locally.

If we ever want true regional cooking in Ireland, this is how it can be achieved. And as we talked of black pudding, I learned that it was Jack who made the black pudding for the State visit of Queen Elizabeth last year.

The next course was another fish course, medallions of monkfish, which came with a risotto flavoured with venison.

It was a twist on the surf 'n' turf idea and worked reasonably well, although, to my taste, the rice could have been cooked more.

Next came pan-roasted quail served with stir-fried vegetables. In truth, by this stage my appetite was almost gone, but the flavour of the stir-fried vegetables kept me going.

Among the vegetables were shredded red peppers, perfectly cooked and richly flavoured with a taste I'll remember for a long time.

This very good meal came to an end with a duo of chocolate mousse, which I was simply unable to even try, I was so well fed.

Instead I had a couple of espressos which served as my digestives.

Two things came clear to me from this meal: first, that it's true -- the south and the west are the best places to find seafood done well; second that seafood is at its best when it's served as it is here -- simply and skilfully.

The menu we'd eaten from was the 'West Cork Tasting Menu', which was very well priced at €28 a head.

O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry, Co Cork Tel: 027 55664

On a budget

You have a few options for budget eating: a lunch menu with main courses for less than €10, an early-bird dinner menu that offers two courses for €20 or three for €25, or the tasting menu we ate from at €28.

On a blowout

The a la carte gives you a wide choice of dishes, ranging from oysters and mussels from the tank to fish dishes and meats. A 10oz Angus steak is €22.95, while a pan-seared duck breast is €26.95.

Weekend Magazine