Spa Seafoods, Spa, Tralee, Co Kerry. Tel: 066-7136901; www.spaseafoods.com
AS I WRITE, Spa Seafoods has just a single follower on Twitter. It also has yet to post a single tweet. This surprises me, because when I tweeted looking for foodie tips near Tralee recently, one was recommended above all others: Spa Seafoods.
Of course, Twitter is a flawed fund of information.
It’s unscientific. It’s full of gossip, grudges, immediacy and innuendo. It’s crawling with vested interests. But it’s also a sizzling source of local intel, has been wholeheartedly embraced by Ireland’s foodie community, and once you take its suggestions with a pinch of salt, can be a wonderfully serendipitous source.
Anyway, I contacted Spa Seafoods the old-fashioned way, phoning to make a booking for a bright Wednesday night.
It’s a classy space. The restaurant is on the first floor, and as I pass through a deli and seafood emporium en route to the stairway, the first thing I notice is a rack of recipes.
Stacked in crisp white sheets of paper, the ingredients and methods for dishes like spiced swordfish kebabs, or plaice with bacon, are confidently presented and free to take away.
The self-assurance carries through upstairs.
A T-shaped room feels slick and fresh, with splashes of cream, sandy-coloured strip tablecloths, light wooden floorboards and a marble topped bar all framing ornamental nods to the marine-influenced menu.
Thick ropes run along the borders; there’s a model lighthouse here, a trawler there, and big windows framing the views.
And what views! From the first floor, Spa Seafoods gives you the feeling of floating in a capsule above the Kerry coast. You’re at once ensconced in, and cosily cosseted away from, the elements.
It’s a lovely evening when I arrive, with the mountainous folds of the Dingle Peninsula clearly visible over the bay, but I imagine it’s just as romantic when mulchy with rain.
It’s also surprisingly busy for a Wednesday — and a Wednesday with no evidence of early birds or set menus at that.
Arriving alone, I end up sharing a table with a TV producer researching a series for a UK channel. Serendipity strikes again: we’ve lots to talk about, and lots to eat.
I start with a seafood cocktail, an arrangement of smoked salmon, baby prawns and crabmeat with crème fraîche and lime presented on a black slate with an artful streak of Marie Rose. It looks and tastes good.
The prawns are firm with pillowy flesh, the chilled crab has a citrusy zing, the salmon is smoked on site, and the Marie Rose has a hint, I think, of Tabasco to warm it all up.
My producer friend orders the similar — but much larger — Spa Seafood Platter, a medley of salmon, crabmeat, prawns, smoked mackerel paté and crab claws served with salad. The elements are all simply and confidently presented.
A bowl of local seafood chowder is less successful. It’s enormous for a starter (though I’m able to order a half-portion), and it tastes dull, despite some honest, fleshy white fish and more of those succulent prawns. It needs a dash of seasoning to lift it up a level.
My main course comes from the specials board — a plate of pan-seared scallops dressed with a clump of rocket, with dark coins of chorizo balanced on top.
There are seven fat scallops in the dish (admittedly, a pretty indulgent order at €24.95), they’re well-cooked, and a side dish of potato gratins is agreeably garlicky and generous portion for the price (€3.50).
Since both of us are driving, we don’t get to sample the wines (talk about new media!), but a short selection from Spain, France, Italy and New Zealand covers most seafood bases.
You can also order beef medallions or a Spanish omelette if you’re not keen on fish, and our meals come with a selection of breads served with butter and an olive tapenade.
Desserts include pecan tart, honey and almond cheesecake, panacotta and my choice, a selection of Valentia icecreams made by the Daly family on the island.
They come from tubs, but rich raspberry and zesty lemon flavours are a luscious end note to a lovely meal.
Isn’t that worth tweeting about?
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