Sunday, 19 August 2012

O'Connors: a bream come true

If you're in South Ireland, make theirs the dish of the (holi)day.

We knew it was going to be the last good meal we'd eat for a while. We were moored in Bantry, West Cork, and a storm was coming. Once we had got the tender back to the yacht it was going to be 24 hours of board games at 45 degree angles in storm force winds.

At 8.30pm it was still hot and humid, and though there was no one on the streets, the restaurants were packed as we searched for our last meal. Being so isolated and coastal, every restaurant was offering fresh fish - some undoubtedly more accurately than others. We chose the one with the most specials and, most importantly, the one with the most specials crossed out, so we knew the menu changed daily and was almost by definition no more than a day old.

So O'Connors won the battle - sadly with most people in the town, and we had to wait in the bar of the nearby hotel while some unfortunate diners were hounded and harried during their coffees. This didn't take long, and we were seated by a waitress that couldn't have been older than five, but turned out to be brilliant. She helped us choose the wine, she laughed at my father for ordering fish and chips in a posh restaurant, and explained that the only reason she carried the starter platters one at a time was that the slates cost £40 a pop and that was her night's wages if she dropped them. These economics aside, I had already decided to tip well.

The whole family decided to go for the seafood platters. Designed for two they came with a teacup of delicious salty seafood broth, delicious garlic and breadcrumb topped mussels and the crispiest, and deep-fried calamari so oily is was like the squid was still alive and trying to entwine your fingers. Unfortunately it also came with a salmon mousse that had more in common with lemon-zest Mr Sheen than any starter should. Perhaps they'd run out of lemons in the kitchen.

The main course, however, was faultless. A crispy skinned, moist sea bream, surrounded by a circle of balsamic and topped with samphire and roast tomatoes. People often say less is more, and more often than not are talking bollocks, but here is was the key to the dish. The soft, acidic sweetness from the tomatoes and balsamic was obviously going to bring the fish to life, but it was the samphire that really made it. It literally smelt and tasted like a sea breeze - filling my nostrils and the back of my mouth with fresh, salty air before the earthy, grassy flavour of the fibres cut across. It was just perfect.

I couldn't even open up my pudding stomach by the end. I was sated. Never before has a restaurant's special been so emphatically... special, and as I played endless games of Scrabble back on board the next day, as the wind howled and sent the mast reaching for the sea, even as my stomach churned and my sea legs gave out, that sea bream was still all I could think of.
O'Connors Seafood Restaurant,
Wolfe Tone Square Bantry,
Co. Cork.
Tel: +353 (0)27 55664

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