Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at The Boathouse, Co Kerry
It happened around lunch-time. A cosmological event so strange, so beyond the normal, that people ran for shelter, cowering in shadows, shading their eyes, drawing small children tight to them for safety.
In the sky above Kenmare, the permanent cloud cover briefly dispersed and, to the wonder of the young and the amazement of their elders, a bright, hot, blazing celestial object came into view, casting brilliant light and heat upon the ground.
The panic was palpable -- suddenly, the familiar damp drizzle that we knew so well gave way to warm air, dry sinuses and steaming clothes.
There were some who fell to their knees in supplication, offering prayers to the strange celestial object; others who claimed to have seen it before, in the summer of 1995; others who said it was an omen, a portent of imminent destruction.
Myself, I was more blasé, having seen this bright object, known as the sun, frequently in Italy and knowing, too, that it was harmless.
Besides, I reassured those near me, it won't be there for long. Soon the normal cloud cover will return. And so it did, just as we left Kenmare heading to Dromquinna.
Dromquinna is a few miles from Kenmare on the road to Sneem, right on the shore of the Kenmare River, which is not well named, as it is more like a fjord, separating the Beara Peninsula from the West Cork coast.
We'd come to Dromquinna to find two things on the estate: first, the restaurant called The Boathouse next to the harbour and, second, the site of the newly coined word 'glamping'.
If you haven't come across glamping, it's glamorous camping: staying in a very large tent with a proper -- and comfortable -- bed.
It turned out that both of the things we'd come to see were side by side, the glamping tents in the field just beside The Boathouse with beautiful views over the fjord.
The interior of The Boathouse is very prettily done, with a blue-and -white theme and plenty of model boats to remind you of the name. It was a Sunday when Marian and I arrived, and they opened at 2pm.
At the door, a blackboard announced the day's specials, which included fresh mackerel. That's perhaps my favourite fish, so before we'd even looked at a menu I knew one of the dishes we'd be having.
The Boathouse is run by Michael McLoughlin, who was for years a fixture in Kenmare with his tapas restaurant. He and his Catalan wife Monserrat keep the kitchen supplied with authentic Catalan flavours, and I have to say that it made a huge difference to what we ate.
Knowing Michael's history, we were determined to order plenty of tapas, but the menu we were handed gave us loads of other choices if we'd wanted them.
Apart from the tapas there was a page of main courses, then fish main courses, pasta dishes, pizzas and a second menu of the day's specials.
There were 25 tapas to choose from and we picked seven: meatballs, Spanish omelette, pork belly, beef skewers, potato cubes with aioli, grilled peppers and, lastly, chanterelle mushrooms, simply on the basis that they were the first I've seen this year.
A bottle of sparkling water was our drink order as a drive back to Dublin loomed, but there was a short list of a dozen wines mostly in the €20-€30 range.
The tapas arrived a few at a time, which was perfect as it gave us time to sample dishes when they were still hot. All of the tapas were the size you'd expect, but one was very large -- the pork belly, which was surprisingly lean, and there was a lot of it.
It arrived sliced into bite-sized pieces and I still had a few pieces to pick on when our meal ended.
The tapas were skilfully done, but what impressed me the most was the authenticity of the flavours.
The first dish that exhibited this characteristic was the beef skewers, which had a taste entirely redolent of tapas I've eaten in Barcelona.
But it continued in other dishes: the aioli that came on the potatoes was probably the best I've tasted, the garlic element subtly blended with the taste of saffron.
Perhaps the taste that most transported me to Catalonia was the smoked paprika, which the Spanish call 'pimenton'. It turns out that Michael sources this from the local butcher in Monserrat's home town.
The butcher is not a young man, so he's spent a lifetime perfecting his technique of making pimenton. It does firmly reinforce my contention that sourcing ingredients that are essential to particular cuisines is the most important element to preparing the dish if you want an authentic taste.
There was one last thing to do and that was try a dessert. There were a few on the menu, but it was one of the day's specials that took Marian's fancy -- a very traditional and not very Spanish apple crumble and cream.
While Marian enjoyed that I had an espresso which was a normal Irish one -- that's to say, almost devoid of crema.
I know I bleat on about this, but I really can't see why this task can be accomplished all over the Continent, but very rarely in Ireland.
But it was my only complaint; other than my espresso, this had been a very good lunch.
The bill came to a modest €56.20.
On a budget
The tapas are very good and will suit the budgetminded, as many of them are priced at €3.50 and €4. The excellent pork belly dish that I had is a steal at €4.
On a blowout
The answer here is to choose fish. Chef Michael is very good with fish, so start with tiger prawns a la plancha for €7, then go for the house speciality, the parrillada de pescado — a platter of grilled fish and shellfish — at €22.
Tel: 064 664-2888