Quinlan’s Seafood Bar
14 Princes Street
Phone: 021 2418222
Irish Daily Mail
15 August 2015
More years ago than I care to remember (as Harry Moore of Dawson Street used to say) I found myself in Bordeaux when I was on the nursery slopes of wine writing. I was being entertained by a very fancy wine producer, the kind of chateau whose bottles are probably better as an investment than gold ingots, and they brought me to a seafood restaurant in that delightful city.
I was duly introduced to the chef/proprietor as a visitor from Ireland. Oh, he said (in French), what I could do with your Irish fish and crustaceans! It doesn’t sound quite so passionate when rendered into flat English but it gave me considerable pause for thought.
You see, I was a recent convert to seafood. True, I had always eaten prawns (my mother did a prawn cocktail, probably from a tin, at Christmas) and I was prepared to countenance crab. But I was almost thirty before I ate, you know, actual fish.
It started with plaice in a Parmesan crust at Trudi’s in Dún Laoghaire. I decided, on a whim, to order it and my recently acquired wife looked at me as if I had two heads. But I’ve never looked back.
So, if your little darlings look askance at swimmy things, fear not. There is hope for them yet. A love of eating the creatures of the deep may take time, but it may come.
In Ireland, we have a curious relationship with fish. Being a largely Catholic country we have a bit of a penitential hangover. Generations of Irish people have seen seafood as penance on a Friday and this seems to have lodged in the psyche. On the other hand, for many generations, meat must have been just an occasional treat, with buttermilk and potatoes and an occasional nugget of butter being the core of the daily diet.
But what about the Spanish, another Catholic country? They love seafood to the point that, since joining the EU, they have fished what we used to think of our seas with considerable enthusiasm.
What we tend to forget is that the Spanish, thanks to their taking the “right” side at the Battle of Lepanto (that was 1571, by the way) were given a dispensation from the Friday rule by a grateful Pope. So Spain has not seen fish as penance since the days when Elizabeth I was holding sway in these parts. Makes you think.
And is it any wonder that dedicated seafood restaurants, in the country that can be plausibly argued to have the best seafood in the world, are thin on the ground?
Quinlan’s is very much a first for Cork. To be honest, thirty years ago, it might have been a first for the country. The latest addition to a small empire of simple, unpretentious seafood restaurants (the others are in Killarney and Tralee), it delivers fish, lobster, prawns and crab landed near Cahirciveen by the owner’s boats or sourced from Kerry fishermen.
In a world where the food supply chain is getting longer and longer, this is really as short as it gets, and short means freshness.
Quinlan’s is a no frills establishment, the focus being entirely on what’s on the plate, deliveredby exceptionally friendly people with a minimum (or, actually, no) fuss.
Our starter of squid from Dingle Bay was unusual in that what it lacked in crispness – we are talking simply floured and fried – was more than compensated for in delicacy and tenderness. These strips of squid were thin and nutty, yielding immediately to the bite.
Atlantic prawns were likewise delicate, encased in a gossamer batter and served with a fairly ordinary garlic mayo; but the prawns, sweet and tender, quite eclipsed that.
Sweetness and tenderness also characterised the big dish of crab claws that comprised one of our main courses. Swimming in melted garlic butter, it came with two thick slices of Declan Ryan’s Arbutus sourdough bread, all the better for absorbing and eating those delightful juices.
Two large fillets of haddock were lightly battered in a way that was the opposite of shatteringly crisp tempura. It was the kind of batter than clung lightly and lost whatever crispness it once had quite rapidly but the quality of the fish shone through. Chunky chips were decent enough.
With mineral water, a good Java Republic espresso and two glasses of house wine, the bill came to €70.25. Quinlan’s won’t frighten the horses but it does a good job and is a great addition to Cork city.