Cronin’s & Mad Fish Restaurant
In another life, decades ago, I was very partial to Cronin’s for it is a pretty special pub, uniquely Irish yet possessed of an intriguing otherness.
A former traveller’s inn dating back to 1892, the old Victorian pile still doughtily faces out to the yacht-filled bay, the high-ceilinged interior crammed with decades of accumulated photos, pictures, and paraphernalia, much of it maritime-related, as befits its place in Crosshaven, a small coastal fishing village that is also home to the world’s oldest yacht club.
I am meeting old comrade Benny Beethoven for an impromptu lunch, and stepping in to the venerable old bar on a glorious day, a celestial luminosity spills into even the darkest corners, causing my heart to essay a giddy flip, akin to running into an old girlfriend and finding the flame still flickers.
We head to the Boxing Room, an alcove shrine to “the noble art”, walls plastered with iconic shots from a bygone era when the likes of Archie Moore and RockyMarciano bled in black and white and the immortal Ali was still known as Cassius Clay.
In 2009, second-generation proprietor Denis Cronin added the Mad Fish restaurant to the family pub. Focused firmly on seafood, it has held a Michelin BibGourmand for the last four years. In summer, the restaurant expands outdoors on to the concourse, hosting mass alfresco seafood barbecues, a splendid spot on a sunny afternoon or evening.
We pass a pleasant hour but lunch disappoints so it is unsurprising to subsequently learn neither Cronin or his sous chef are in the kitchen, casual cover instead plugging the gap. In fact, it is so curiously off-kilter, a return is necessary.
Friday night, 7pm, the crisp, cold evening forestalls any dawdling as we shiver through the door. The transition is remarkable, as we step into a glittering, twinkling heaven and the heartwarming embrace of a perfect pub on full throttle — if yesterday’s visit caused an old flame to flicker, tonight it explodes into a roaring furnace of full-blown passion.
It is packed with locals enjoying a rare old time, all beaming as if they’ve just won the lotto on Christmas morning — and if Cronin’s is your local, well...you pretty much have.
At weekends, drinkers reclaim the bar entirely, so we grab a swift pint and one last draught of the crackling atmosphere before dialling it down a notch in the quieter restaurant space.
I start with succulent, meaty Irish octopus, paired with chilli, garlic, and fried potatoes, a rock-solid Iberian classic showcasing a prime ingredient criminally underused on Irish menus — a tad more acidity would knock it out of the park entirely.
Current Wife has a simple, elegantly achieved Dinish Island West Cork crabmeat salad with good springy homemade brown bread while No 2 Son draws the short straw with wonderful salt and pepper squid, a dish so ridiculously more-ish, the rest of us raid repeatedly until the eventually howls with indignation.
CW’s main is butterflied grilled Wild Atlantic prawns keeping good company with sprightly peri peri, while No 2 Son indulges his passion for mussels, steamed in white wine.
I opt for panfried wild fish, afillet of meaty, tender cod, paired with good lobster bisque; La Daughter has haddock in superb crispy beer (White Gypsy Blond) batter and excellent chips.
Undoubtedly playing to a local audience, sides are hearty, old- school fare: roast cauliflower, mashed potato, and crisp purple sprouting broccoli; fuel for the furnace on a parky night butI’d have equally welcomed some lighter options for texture and contrast.
We finish with brownies and homemade “cheat’s” ice cream, made from condensed milk rather than egg custard, but still as in fully delicious cousin to Indian kulfi we find impossible to resist.
We are back on familiar territory, normal service restored after the previous day’s blip, Denis Cronin’s homely, tasty cooking makes for most comforting fare indeed and exceptional service deserves to be also singled out.
Better again, it is good to learn an ever-questing Cronin is keen to add a keener edge to the culinary offering, spicing up a still quite traditional menu with further contemporary twists like that octopus dish.
Should he succeed, don’t be surprised if you hear that I’ve only gone and run away with an old flame.