Well, normal service was certainly restored after last year’s scorching anomaly and so when we park up by Long Strand — a pit stop on our way home from much further west where the default setting has been monsoon — a hefty ‘breeze’ may have the surf roiling and boiling but it’s also strong enough to send clouds scudding across the sky, allowing a feisty late-afternoon sun to radiate down a rare transfusion of Vitamin D.
With The Fish Basket itself stuffed to the gills, we are more than happy to take one of their beachside benches outside, courtesy lap blankets supplied for blue-legged La Daughter and I, both optimistically/naively attired in shorts. While Current Wife and No 2 Son take the ageing hound for a swift perambulation of the beach, LD and I are content to pass the 20-plus minute wait luxuriating in this ephemeral glimpse of the perfect summer that might have been.
The Fish Basket is a small concrete block ‘shack’ that lay idle for over a decade until receiving a funky revamp courtesy of a relocated London couple, who opened it up as the Puffin Cafe. Puffin did a decent line in pizzas and certainly added new life to a beach that has only ever interested walkers and surfers, as it is generally too dangerous for swimming, and traded for three years until its dramatic demise, heralded by what the Southern Star described as a “strongly worded” Instagram post from Puffin’s owner, excoriating many of its former customers and the local scene in general, even dropping the C-bomb.
Having taken over the lease days before, transferring his former Fish Basket food truck business in Rosscarbery to this bricks-and-mortar home, new proprietor Peter Shanahan found himself the unwitting beneficiary of an online brouhaha that drew goggle-eyed visitors from far and wide, curious to see the venue at the heart of such a diatribe. The interest was sufficient to put immediate wind beneath the sails of this new and rather remote seaside enterprise, though its success ever since is entirely down to Shanahan and co.
With the saline tang on the wind sharpening appetites to scalpel sharpness, today’s special, a big tray of fresh whole Irish prawns and crab claws, succulent flesh dripping in garlic and herb butter, served up with gorgeous handout chips and a good salad of local leaves, is near enough the quintessential seaside dining experience, while the sharing tray would sort out a small famine: crispy battered hake and lemon sole; super-fresh scampi, not the frozen reconstituted muck that has long besmirched its reputation; tender, sweet calamari with mushy peas, tartare sauce and chips. It is a breathtaking and sublimely rendered bounty, its generosity translating equally well on the palate.
Fish tacos are possibly the weakest dish though that has nothing to do with the crisply battered, succulent main component but rather the pappy, wheat tortilla. (On foot of this mild criticism, Shanahan, commendably and immediately puts them on the shopping list.)
Tomato salsa lacks real chilli punch though lime sour cream and homemade slaw take up a lot of the slack and, yes, of course it comes with another humongous serving of those chips. A Sables Fauves (Domaine de Lacabasse 2018) at just €20 is the perfect cheap and cheerful seaside swiller, fresh, floral and crisp and with sufficient acidity to reboot the palate after shovelfuls of chips.
I betimes despair of the plummeting standards of service in the hospitality sector, an oft-scratched itch, rarely relieved, so it is quite a pleasure to instead single out an establishment for especial praise, as front-of-house manager Helena Tynan meets and greets while orchestrating an exceptionally well-marshalled crew of young women, who never seem to falter or flag faced by waves of diners.
Local roaster Tony Speight’s very fine West Cork Coffee is perfectly served while homebaked treats made by Shanahan’s wife, Elaine, are a revelation. And if that weren’t enough, The Fish Basket also does a substantial breakfast/brunch.
Forgive me if I come over all Eric Cantona, but while The Puffin may have flown the nest, The Fish Basket is well and truly landed.
- €60 (including soft drinks, coffee, excluding tip)
- 11/10 on a perfect summer’s day; 8/10 on any other day