OUR attitude to eating oysters can be pretty similar to the treaty some of us sign — metaphorically at least — when steering our children through religious rites of passage.
We’re not always entirely convinced, some of us may even be disinterested, but we go with the flow rather than rock the boat and distance our children from their radiant classmates.
We play along, slaloming through our insincerity hoping not to feel too much like a fraud at the end of the day. When we’re in the oyster shack we order our half dozen even if we don’t always enjoy slurping salty mucus. We play our part in the collective’s adventures.
Others, just like those who are certain about leading children on a religious journey, really enjoy oysters. They swallow with the kind of abandon that inspired Seamus Heaney to write, in 1979, probably the best poem ever written about a bivalve:
Our shells clacked on the plates.
My tongue was a filling estuary,
My palate hung with starlight:
As I tasted the salty Pleiades
Orion dipped his foot into the water.
Later in that wonderful piece from Field Work Heaney describes arriving at a place in the West — In the cool thatch and crockery — a description that fits Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Kilcolgan, Co Galway to a tee.
On an island necklaced with attractive seashore bars and restaurants this is one of the fabled and famous and the location is pretty impressive too. Overlooking a narrow estuary it seems to exist in a micro climate all of its own, every time I visit the sun is shining.
Moran’s is a thatched cottage more than 250 years old and is run today by Catherine Moran, the seventh generation of her family to be involved in the business. I imagine it is pretty tourist-dependent, after all it is a perfect location for a lingering summertime lunch.
What a pity then that food was so very mediocre and uninspiring. Moran’s website suggests high-end, memorable food but what we got was at best decent canteen food.
One dish fell into the category of an iffy midnight takeaway that you’d only buy after a long night on the town and, the next morning, make you wonder if you’ll ever get sense.
There were three of us — F and J and myself — and we arrived at what would be early-bird menu time in a more urban restaurant but the dining room was already quite busy and it got far busier as the evenging went on.
Two of us began with oysters grilled with garlic breadcrumb. This seemed a bit like going for a swim in a wet suit.
You are in the water but the invigorating sea-water sensation is dimmed. Maybe it was a poor choice but it was like any other fish dish presented with an unbalanced garlic butter — overwhelmed, rendered anonymous and more or less pointless.
The oyster’s character was completely purged. Oysters for people who might not like oysters I suppose. F had chowder — I suspect he could live on his fishy “luck dip”— and enjoyed it, it passed his demanding standards.
For his main course J asked for Moran’s seafood special, a selection of smoked salmon, crab meat, prawn and crab claws. It seemed like one of those exhausted actors caught in a never-ending run of a hit play, forelorn and struggling to match its billing. There was nothing wrong with it but it seemed entirely predictable.
It was a going-through-the-motions plate that struggled to match the reputation of the house. F had a good plate of cod and chips, nothing spectacular and entirely serviceable.
My main course failed utterly to match the reputation of the house. Scampi is one of those simple but difficult dishes that can define a restaurant. Good scampi, and that’s not all that common, is crispy and succulent, tasty and pert. Moran’s was like over-cooked knobs of something tasteless and synthetic.
It was so very industrial that it is hard to think it was prepared in-house — as it should be in a restaurant with Moran’s heritage. It was more like one of McIlroy’s Nike golf balls than anything that came from the sea. The meal was so uninspiring that we left after the main courses.
Two courses for three, a bottle of wine (€28.00) and coffees €141.55
Monday to Thursday, noon to 9.30. Friday to Saturday, noon to 10pm, Sunday noon to 9:30pm
In a sentence:
Disappointing, the life seemed to have been drained from most of the ingredients rather than amplified,
Moran’s On The Weir,
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved