With a big blue sailboat motif set into its handsome stone frontage, you can’t miss Rudi and Frances Rabasse’s smartly renovated restaurant on Oranmore’s main street. Happily it has its own carpark at the back, and you’ll probably notice a sign directing diners to the side door on your way in.
Inside there’s a welcoming sense of professionalism as you’re shown to your table in a conservatory at the back - also used as a private dining room - or the main restaurant at the front of the building, which is a pleasing room on two levels with minimalistic table settings, a gently maritime theme and plenty of wood and open stonework giving it character.
Before opening The Boathouse in autumn 2012, Rudi had worked in many restaurants of note both here and in his native France - most recently as manager of Galway city’s excellent Kirwan’s Lane Restaurant - and this experience shows in an easy hospitality and attention to detail in customer care, which is not always found in Ireland.
Head chef Anthony Printer is a Scotsman with a similar background and they make a good team. He cooks modern Irish food but, not surprisingly, there’s strong French bias with dishes like Galway Bay prawn ravioli ‘a la Francaise’ and Killary Mussels ‘A la Normande’ catching the eye among the starters, along with main courses such as lamb Provencal and a Fricassée of haricot beans on the vegetarian menu (which offers three choices on each course).
Even that old faithful chowder has a touch of French chic about it, and very good it is too: described as a ‘fricassée of fresh local seafood in a light vermouth and herb cream’, it’s light years away from the gloopy soup that many visitors have come to expect and, unusually, it makes a good a starter.
And, while seafood is the speciality - there will be half a dozen daily specials in addition to dishes on the main menu - there are plenty of other choices; Anthony cooks a mean boeuf bourguinon, for example, and it’s a perfect mood lifter on a chilly day.
The dessert list offers favourites, including classics like apple crumble, which can so often be disappointing restaurants - but not here, where it is lovely and juicy with plenty of fruit and comes with a little pot of warm crème anglaise as well as vanilla ice cream (not homemade unfortunately - maybe they could try the lovely Linalla ice cream from Brid and Roger Fahy’s farm up the road at New Quay).
The wine list is a particular interest for Rudi and offers a good range at fair prices, many from small producers.
“Seasonally-inspired cuisine prepared with the best fresh local ingredients” is the stated aim at The Boat House and, although it may jar a little to see asparagus on a winter menu, it generally succeeds very well, with suppliers listed on the à la carte menu and quality ingredients - including game, in season - carefully sourced.
The cooking is assured and all round this welcoming and professionally run restaurant is a very enjoyable place to visit, and a great asset to Oranmore.