Wolfe Tone Square,
Bantry, Co Cork,
O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant, Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry, Co Cork, a local favourite and well worth visiting — especially for the cod dish if you’re from Newfoundland. Picture: Denis Minihane
IN HIS wonderful, challenging 1997 book Cod, A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, Mark Kurlansky describes an abundance now unimaginable and he tells of how our self-destructive greed overwhelmed one of nature’s greatest gifts. Kurlansky also describes how the cod fisheries of the North Atlantic’s Grand Banks were once cornerstones of economic and social development on two continents. Think of George Clooney skippering the Andrea Gail but refusing to accept the inevitable in Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm and you’re there.
Kurlansky describes how the Basques discovered the Grand Banks bonanza long, long before Christopher Columbus landed on an American shore but were glic enough to keep their great good luck a secret. It was not until emigrants from this part of the world settled Newfoundland that the fate of a fish, once so plentiful that its numbers were described as “... amazingly prolific. Leewenhoek counted 9,384,000 eggs in a cod-fish of a middling size — a number that will baffle all the efforts of man to exterminate” was sealed. Nature, even on this scale, was no match for our energy, relentless, blind exploitation and technology.
In 1992, when the cod biomass fell to 1% of an earlier level, Canada reluctantly and very belatedly closed the fishery, ending 500 years of commercial and cultural advance. The stocks have not recovered and the fishery remains closed, the communities once sustained by cod diminished and became increasingly isolated.
Still, we eat and enjoy cod from EU-managed and sustainable fisheries on this side of the Atlantic and this is the very cod that O’Connor’s of Bantry, and all other restaurants serving the fish in Ireland, use.
O’Connor’s, a very pleasant and highly regarded — rightly so — seafood restaurant, do a particularly nice cod dish with Toons Bridge mozzarella and a few more little spikes of taste. But more of that later.
DW and I visited on a Tuesday night and though the dining room was not full it was busy. The guests were mostly local — always the best endorsement.
We began with one of those around-the-house-and-mind-the-dresser communal dishes — O’Connor’s Seafood Platter for two and it was an entirely enjoyable experience. Chowder, calamari, garlic and herb mussels — the dud part of the night — seafood crumble and a little dish of fish stew. Every element, except the very jaded mussels, was a tease and drew my eye back to the specials board wondering if I’d made the right call for my main course.
For her main course DW chose pan-roasted cod topped with Toon Bridge feta cheese, smoked sundried tomato and coriander drizzled with truffle oil. It was simple and well cooked, plated especially well and really good. Mark Kurlansky would have approved. I had monkfish, prawn and mussels in a red Thai coconut curry which may seem a kind of sacrilege in a restaurant offering ray wings, bass and lobster — as well as a fine range of meat dishes — but there are few enough opportunities to get a decent fish curry in this part of the world so my decision was made. It was lovely, layer of texture and taste, nothing overpowering and one element complimenting the other. It was a good choice but I’ll have to return to try some of the other dishes listed.
Desserts — strawberry and white chocolate panacotta and lemon tart with raspberries — were lovely, especially the sharply citrus lemon tart, a lovely contrast to the earlier fish dishes.
The wine, and here curiosity got the better of me, was a Spanish chardonnay Anil Macabeo from Castilla. It came very appropriately in a blue bottle but almost seemed more a product of a marketing company than a winemaker. But it proved entirely palatable.
O’Connor’s, now owned and run by head chef Pat Kiely, is one of those lovely understated places at ease with itself and the produce it offers its guests. And of course that ease is just an expression of the professionalism that makes this a very good restaurant and one well worth visiting — especially for the cod dish if you’re from Newfoundland.
THE TAB: Dinner for two, three courses with wine and tea came to €108, tip extra.
HOW TO: Every day from noon.
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