Well off the busy main West Cork road, this unique restaurant is on the square of the old village of Rosscarbery and has a previous commercial history that’s almost tangible.
Exposed stone walls, old fishing nets and glass floats, mismatched furniture, shelves of wine bottles and candlelight all contribute to its unique atmosphere - which is well-matched by proprietor-host Sean Kearney’s larger-than-life personality.
Then there’s the exceptional freshness and quality of the seafood - steaks theoretically share the billing, but West Cork seafood ‘bought off the boats at auction’ steals the scene and the goodness on the plate is backed up by a reassuring statement: "Seafood is our speciality with an absolute emphasis on only using locally caught and sourced West Cork fish and shellfish. If a particular fish is not available, we will not substitute it with a frozen import, so our customers can rest assured they will only be served with the freshest local fish on any given night."
Martina O’Donovan’s menus change daily but specialities to look out for include the famous Rosscarbery Pacific oysters, of course, also a superb West Cork Seafood Platter, char-grilled prime fish such as turbot, and grilled whole lobster.
Dishes recently enjoyed by the Guide included starters of prawn cocktail and sweet/sour chilli squid and main courses of Roxanne's famous scampi and monkfish in garlic butter, with seasonal vegetables (fried courgettes, sautéed peas) and balls-of-flour new potatoes - all outstanding. The inspired simplicity extends to desserts like hot raspberries with vanilla ice cream and a perfect zabaglione made to order - both are served with homemade biscuits - and Irish cheeses are offered with a glass of port or dessert wine.
The stated ethos of the restaurant is simply " to provide our customers with a stress free, hassle free evening and to enjoy our fish with a nice bottle of wine and to chill out as much as possible".
This is achieved (and then some), not least thanks to Sean Kearney's special brand of service - Sean and his lovely local waitresses make the experience very special with their humour and knowledgeable, unassuming attention. (And caring quirkiness even extends to toilets that are clean and well kept for 'Les Belles Dames' and 'Gentle Men' alike!)
Ultra-freshness, attention to detail in breads and accompaniments - and a huge dose of personality - all add up to make this place an unmitigated delight: ramshackle understatement raised to the level of art.
An interesting wine list includes some wines not seen elsewhere and a good choice of half bottles; while mainly French, the list also features wines from the Fermoy Estate in Australia, in an appropriate show of Cork partisanship that is entirely typical of Sean's quirky sense of humour.
*O’Callaghan-Walshe was the Guide’s Atmospheric Restaurant of the Year for 2004.