ONE of those old, pre-internet masters-of-the-universe press barons Lord Beaverbrook — a Mark Zuckerberg of his time but in a far, far better suit — once described his idea of what a good newspaper should be: “Just like the sea, the same but different every day.”
That fluctuating-certainty ideal applies to any decent body of water, river or lake, and it is hard to think of better way to really relax, to really wash down to self, than to sit and watch a stretch of water almost to the point where it absorbs you.
Whether you become it or it becomes you, even if you step into it, is probably one of those conundrums Sherlock Holmes counted as a three-pipe problem and slightly off-menu for a steak-and-chips column like this.
Nevertheless, if good food and wine taken in pleasant company don’t allow a question like that to be at least tickled lightly the entire point to the exercise may have been missed. When that tickling can be done in a room with a wonderful view of a working harbour, a small compact one like Ballycotton, framed by the lighthouse to the south and a shoreline stretching northwards towards Knockadoon Head, so much the better.
When, on a summer’s evening, that harbour wall is manned by a dozen or so summer-bonanza anglers casting for mackerel, looking so much like the defenders of a besieged castle with fishing rods instead of longbows, the scene could hardly be improved.
When some of those mackerel end up on your plate — “far better tasting than the fish drowned in a trawler’s net,” one of the waiters assures us — it is hard not to think you’ve been absorbed by the place.
And what a pleasure it was to be absorbed by Pier 26, a restaurant opened last November by Colin Hennessy and Holly Fitzgerald.
The dining room is one of those places where the view challenges the food for attention, one trumping the other, turn-and-about-turn throughout the evening.
DW opened with seared scallops in a hazelnut and lemon butter with pea shoots. Firm and fresh, properly cooked to that point where the flesh seems almost something else. Excellent.
As was my starter... monkfish scampi with chilli and lime aioli. Sounds simple, and it is, but very few kitchens do it as well as this was done. Firm, robust fish, cooked through and served well before over-cooking took its zest and made it too dry. A real contender for my starter of the year.
My main, sole on the bone with a few prawns, was very nice even if it may have spent a few moments too long under the heat. Delicacy is this dish’s great attraction and it’s easy to miss the optimum moment, it was, nevertheless good.
DW enjoyed her main course far more than many others and it couldn’t have been simpler. Fresh mackerel, lemon mash, sauteed mushrooms and garlic butter, all served while the fish’s cousins were lifted dangling from the sea onto the pier. No frills, no over-egging, just good ingredients used to great effect.A real washed-down pleasure, summer on a plate.
Desserts were top class — chocolate and olive oil mousse, sugared strawberries and almond biscuits for DW, creme brulee with raspberries and a greedy spoon of really excellent ice cream which was made by Tom Baldwin just down the road in Knockanore, Co Waterford.
And, as if straight from central casting, when we left the restaurant that August question, asked by a million excited young boys: “Do you want any mackerel? Fresh tonight” rang out.
Of course we did, why would anyone not want to try to replicate what was a lovely meal in a room with a magnificent view — one dinner diners — and there were plenty of non-fish options on the menu — can enjoy for another month or so before the clocks go back and before the mackerel leave these waters for colder, northern waters.
But don’t fret if you can’t make it before then, Pier 26 is well worth a visit even if the winter’s dark steals the view.
Dinner for two with a bottle wine — €25 — and a coffee came to €122.65
Tuesday to Thursday: 17.30— 21.00; Friday: 17.30—21.30; Saturday: 12—15.30, 17.30—21.30 and Sunday: 12—19.30