With its smart blue and white frontage and welcoming signage, it would be hard to drive past Barry and Catherine McLoughlin’s attractive roadside bar and restaurant just outside Bandon these days.
What they took on in 2006 was a typical pub, with the bar downstairs and restaurant above, but - although they have retained the best qualities of the quintessential Irish pub - they have since completed a major refurbishment of the downstairs bar (which is now a seafood bar, serving food daily) and, more recently, the restaurant (open on late week evenings).
Barry is the chef and, once guests learn that he was previously at Fishy Fishy Café (widely recognised as one of the finest restaurants in an area well known for its good food), expectations are immediately raised. And with good reason, as this kitchen has consistently turned out wonderfully flavourful dishes based on fresh local seafood (from Castletownbere and other nearby ports) since opening, and they have earned a great reputation in the locality and beyond for their fine food and hospitality. Top quality ingredients are deftly handled and, even when eating in the bar, the seafood is restaurant quality, both in taste and contemporary presentation on smart white plates.
Pride in suppliers and a commitment to using sustainable, responsibly caught fish is seen on a list that outlines their philosophy and details about half a dozen suppliers in Courtmacsherry, Union Hall, Kinsale, and Baltimore as well as Castletownbere, and the same pride of place is seen for meats, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables - and even the wine list will include some Irish bottles if possible.
Fresh crab is cooked, cracked and picked daily (a rarity these days), to be served in house specialities such as crispy Dinish Island crab and prawn cakes with spicy mango and plum salsa, or Castletownbere crab crumble which is served with dressed salad, tomato, coriander & lime salsa, and also features in a West Cork Seafood Tapas Plate, alongside other treats such as calamari with chili dressing and prawn bisque.
Another speciality is a deep dish seafood pie that is comfort food of the first order; dishes like West Cork seafood chowder at about €7, and, when available, fresh local crabmeat or prawn open sandwiches on wholemeal brown bread at around €13.95, are popular with the many family groups who make a beeline for this spot.
Fresh local produce is central to this kitchen, everything is cooked to order and the focus is on pleasing the customer. Steak, a chicken dish and a vegetarian choice is also offered for non-fish eaters, and many dishes are available in two sizes. Vegetarian and coeliac friendly dishes are marked up, and kids can have half portions of almost everything on the menu.
Desserts are mainly of the homely kind - hot sticky toffee pudding, bread and butter pudding, and rhubarb crumble with vanilla pod ice cream are all typical - while the chocolate tapas plate is sure to please chocoholics.
The restaurant upstairs is open for dinner several nights a week, with menus that overlap to some extent with the bar meals, and also offer some extra dishes.
Catherine manages front of house and service under her direction is informal, but pleasant and efficient. The list wine offers an interesting and accessible range of about two dozen old and new world bottles, also some sparkling wines, aperitifs and digestifs; wines by the glass are served from a dispenser, a choice of four or five each red and white, also a rosé.
The Poachers Inn has proved a great asset to the area, and has become a key destination for visitors heading in and out of West Cork. Cookery courses are also available.