Good Food Simply Cooked

Seafood Circle Logo“Good food, simply cooked” is David Fitzgibbon’s guiding principle and it’s one that has stood him in good stead at Aherne's Seafood Restaurant in Youghal. Selected as BIM Seafood Circle Restaurant of the Year 2010 by Georgina Campbell’s Guide, Aherne’s is an unmissable stop on the south coast, as noted for the warm hospitality as the sparkling fresh seafood that attracts visitors as well as devoted locals.

It’s a fitting tribute as the one-time pub celebrates its 100th year in the ownership of the Fitzgibbon family, and is now run by third generation brothers John and David.

Menus feature at least eight different types of fish on any given day, mostly from local day boats fishing out of Ballycotton Bay. “I talk to the fishermen in the morning and they tell me what they’re catching so I can decide what I’ll use on the day’s menu”, David says. “It goes into a refrigerated van as soon as it’s landed and comes straight to the kitchen door”.

Seafood Circle Restaurant of the Year 2010 - Ahernes Seafood Restaurant, Youghal, Co Cork IrelandOther seafood comes from Dunmore East and Kilmore Quay, while crab is supplied by a local crab potter. A good selection of fish goes into Aherne’s famous chowder, described by David as “New England style”, thick and creamy with chunky seafood and the signature addition of smoked salmon. Served with their moist dark brown bread, the distinctive chowder is a popular lunchtime meal.

Fresh bread is baked every day, and since John was diagnosed coeliac some years ago, they also produce their own gluten-free bread and make up dishes in gluten-free versions, helpfully flagged on the menu.

Dublin Bay prawns in garlic butter are a permanent menu fixture, with customers travelling specially for the succulent prawns served sizzling in piping hot escargot dishes, each in its own little pool of delicious butter. Oysters are always on the menu too, gigas as well as native oysters when they’re in season. “We’ve noticed that people have definite preferences for one or the other, but never both,” David explains.

Specialities like baked cod wrapped in bacon and pan fried scallops with spinach and beurre blanc are popular but David has noticed that fresh fish simply grilled on the bone is enjoying great uptake. With less work for the kitchen, these can be offered at an attractive price and often feature as catch of the day. Megrim for instance, is like white sole when it’s fresh, David says, and he also makes good use of grey mullet, which is similar to bass and “gorgeous when it’s fresh”.

Familiar fish like hake, monkfish, lemon sole and cod are reliable menu favourites but David also likes to encourage customers to try different fish. “John Dory is beautiful but people are not sure about it. It’s just lack of familiarity, so it’s important that servers are trained to sell it when customers ask ‘what’s nice?’ ”.

Seafood Circle Bar of the Year 2010 - Kealys Seafood Bar Co DonegalUp in Donegal, it’s a different story. Tricia Kealy of Kealys Seafood Bar reports that John Dory served with anchovy butter is their most popular fish and has been known to convert dedicated meat eaters. “It’s a good introduction to seafood, with a nice firm texture and our only problem is that it can sometimes be scarce as it’s always in demand”.

Named BIM Seafood Circle Bar of the Year 2010 by the Campbell Guide, Kealys had been a family pub, closed for several years until re-opened by Tricia and her late husband James in 1989. Both had trained as chefs in Killybegs and with the pub on the quayside at the heart of Greencastle’s tiny fishing port, it seemed natural to start offering a bit of seafood in the bar.

Chowder was on the original menu, made to James’s grandmothers’s recipe and still a mainstay so popular that customers ask for the recipe, which is cheerfully given out. Based on a selection of white fish and salmon in a creamy broth, mussels are no longer included in the mix due to the rise in shellfish allergies – a sign of the times, Tricia observes.

Fresh seafood at the bar’s five tables simply took off and within three years Kealys expanded with a 60 seat restaurant and a growing reputation for spanking fresh seafood cooked within sight of the boats that delivered it virtually to the front door.

People are more interested in eating seafood now, Tricia has seen, for health reasons as well as the influence of travel and good foreign experiences. Moules marinieres is a perennial favourite as the Spanish influenced hake with saffron butter sauce.

Kealys seafood also has the happy knack of putting a modern spin on traditional Irish food, serving their baked salmon with a wholegrain mustard crust on spring cabbage and bacon. Locally grown organic vegetables are part of the mix in dishes like baked hake on braised fennel with tomato butter sauce.

Black sole meuniere on the bone is an evergreen favourite and Donegal lobster is prepared to order, with many enthusiastic customers cherishing the slightly retro deliciousness of a classic thermidor. Oysters figure largely too, served au natural or given Kealys special “pearl of the Foyle” treatment, lightly cooked in whiskey and cream with smoked salmon and gratinated on a crouton.

Customers come from all over Donegal and Northern Ireland, and Tricia credits the Greencastle – Magilligan Point ferry with opening up the Inishowen peninsula. “We’ll always be affected by the weather”, she says “especially in the winter season. The main thing is that people enjoy their meal, leave happy and come back to us. The loyalty of our customers is what keeps us going”.

by Marilyn Bright

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Supported by BIM

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