Cork: Simply the best

Fishy Fishy, Crowley’s Quay, Kinsale, Co Cork; tel: 021-4700415; www.fishyfishy.ie

FISHY FISHY is one of the most popular restaurants along the south coast and despite our regrettable habit of building someone — or something — up just to knock them down the great majority, probably a higher proportion than any other Irish restaurant, of online reviews reflect that.

Many are effusive, some almost ecstatic. Many are, and this means far more than may be immediately apparent, signed by the authors. At a time when everyone involved in restaurants or hotels dreads how the online bile of an anonymous assassin might discourage customers, this edge is not to be sniffed at, especially in a high-traffic tourist town.

Therefore, it is hard to imagine that owners Martin and Marie Shanahan, their staff and their suppliers don’t take a considerable pride in the fact that their efforts are so widely celebrated. And, on the night we — DW and I — visited the positive reviews were entirely justified so why wouldn’t they?

Even as the horsemeat scandal slips from the front pages it is obvious that the scale of the criminality is so frightening that we, subconsciously at least, may not want to know that some of last year’s point-to-point plodders are the backbone of our lasagna. Consequently, food provenance is again as live an issue as it should always be. This idea, that we should care enough about our food to know where it came from, is celebrated in an unusual but positive way at Fishy Fishy. There are portraits of local fishermen on a wall of the dining room. Deepening the idea of continuity and sustainability three generations of one family of fishermen — the Hurleys — are shown. And on the menu we found Christy Hurley’s pan-fried cod. It was joined by Billy Lynch’s grilled ray wings. This reassuring linkage was strengthened in a counter-intuitive way. Lots of fish you might expect to see — bass, sole, turbot, brill, hake, mackerel, herring, tuna and lobster — were absent, so it must be assumed that neither Billy or Christy, nor any of their colleagues had any to offer. This may not be entirely true, but it I think reflects the spirit of the place. In any event, those fish will make an appearance on another day so we have an excuse to return.

DW stole a march and ordered a small dish of scampi with a lovely, especially seductive sauce for her starter. Sweet, juicy, firm and fresh they were excellent, so much so that I wondered about asking for a dish as a dessert.

Chowder, like religion, means many things to many people. Some advance their version as others declare their faith the one, true path to happiness. Fishy Fishy’s chowder bucks the fashion for a heavy, cream-thick, potato-based soup flecked with fish and they serve a wonderfully smokey, rich rust-coloured chowder. It is so full of sea flavours that you want to turn and thank the Hurleys smiling on the wall.

For her main course DW had pan-roasted monkfish, creamed leek risotto, parsnip crisps and rocket oil. I had John Dory, again pan-roasted, with steamed broccoli, roasted beetroot, toasted pine nuts and lemon scented hollandaise. One was nicer, more honest to the origin of the food, than the other and celebrated the sophisticated simplicity Martin Shanahan has advocated in his TV series, Martin’s Mad About Fish. I cannot remember better main courses in a seafood restaurant pitched at this level. So much so that the desserts, though very nice, paled in comparison.

The wine, from a long and very attractive list, was a scrum-half spikey Torres Fransola and showed why Torres were named European Winery of the year by Wine Enthusiast.

A colleague swears he once saw, maybe 25 years ago, Bill Gates crawling around a California conference stage getting the powerpoint thingy to work. That always struck me as a good sign of a fella, after all he could easily send a flunky to do the legwork but he did it himself. With that thought in mind I glanced into the kitchen and I’m glad to say that our TV star was there, dicing and slicing with his crew. That seems just about right and explains why so many online reviews are so positive and so very justified.

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