If you were going to open your own restaurant what would you call it?
Would you go for something memorable, or would your choice be influenced by location, the type of food you intend to serve, or by historical connections?
Like anybody else in business, restaurant owners put a lot of thought into the name they give their enterprise, though what Heston Blumenthal quite had in mind when he opened The Fat Duck more than 20 years ago is anybody’s guess.
There used to be a Salty Dog in Dalkey in the 1980s, and there’s one in Skerries now, I knocked across a Blue Walnut somewhere in the UK one time, and in Kinsale we have Martin Shanahan’s wonderfully titled and very wonderful Fishy Fishy.
But it seems entirely appropriate the restaurant that has been operating out of 75 Main Street in Midleton for over 40 years is known simply as Finín’s. If ever there was an eaterie that reflected the character of its owner, then Finín O’Sullivan’s establishment is it. From what’s on the walls to what’s on the plates.
Walk in off the street and at first glance it looks like many another Irish pub that serves food, but a second glance reveals walls covered with striking original art, including several Knuttels and some wonderful works by the Dublin artist George Dunne. Definitely not your average pub.
Finín himself is there on this Saturday evening, as colourful and exuberant as any of his paintings, welcoming customers as if they were old and very dear friends. The same goes for the rest of the staff who seem to know everybody, and if they don’t they want to make them feel as if they do.
There’s a very warm and friendly vibe to the place, some would say old-school, and the food is very traditional fare, no fussy nonsense, just quality locally sourced ingredients cooked really well.
It’s a melt-in-the-mouth steak and seafood straight-off-the-boat kind of place, with presentation playing second fiddle. If you want your food to look like art on a plate go somewhere else, but if you want great grub surrounded by interesting art then this could be the place for you.
While food is also served in the downstairs bar the restaurant is on the upper level and on the night of our visit it was buzzing.
There’s a very good reason the owner and staff seem to know everybody: many were regulars. Finín says it’s why he has survived the recession of the 1970s, the recession of the 1980s and the meltdown of the Celtic Tiger crash, loyal customers who keep coming back for more of what they like.
The menu is more focused than extensive. That said, given the quality of the ingredients there is great value on offer. Myself and The Companion found it difficult to choose between either of the two set dinner menu options (two courses for €25 with choices of a legendary seafood chowder and sirloin steak or salmon, and the more extensive three course option at €35, or the choice of à la carte.
In the end we did as we always do, we mixed and matched. She had a starter of Warm Salad of Fresh Scallops followed by fillet of Black Sole with Prawns.
I thought I had lost her there for a while. I might as well have been talking to one of the Knuttels on the wall while she was floating through the outrageously gorgeous scallops. There’s another way of describing it, but not in a family newspaper. Of a Saturday morning.
It didn’t get much better, or worse, during the sole with prawns. Sublime, is a word that I think fits the bill, though when the verdict was finally pronounced I myself was being enraptured by a perfectly pink fillet steak with pepper sauce and gratin potatoes.
You could say I was pre- enraptured by a crab mayonnaise with avocado which was on the set menu but not on the à la carte, but that would be some understatement. This was on the sinful side of sublime.
A zingy bottle of Abadia San Campio Albariño at €33 kept the wheels oiled nicely as the evening eased into night. The Dessert Selection at €7.50 didn’t match the overall standards, unfortunately, but everything else made it easy to understand why this place and its charismatic owner is still rocking, ever so gently, after 40 years.
Dinner for two with wine came to €130, including tip. The limited but well chosen wine list also includes a lovely Picpoul de Pinet and a Torreon de Paredes Merlot, both at €25
Not the usual one; take the train from Cork. It’s fun, especially if you are in a group, you can have a glass or two and leave the car at home.