The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - QCs

BIM Seafood CircleMarilyn Bright talks to Kate Cooke who, together with her husband Andrew, runs QC’s Bar, Restaurant & Townhouse in Caherciveen, Co Kerry - where, bucking the trend for the area this year, 2013 will go down as a bumper season.

Supported by BIM

“The best season ever” is how Kate Cooke describes business at QC’s Bar and Restaurant this year. In addition to winning the title of BIM Seafood Circle Seafood Restaurant of the Year 2012, the family run enterprise has won accolades for the stylish new guest rooms which have added another string to their bow.

QCsSince opening in 2000, QC’s has earned a top reputation far spanking fresh seafood, not surprising given that Kate is part of the dynasty behind Quinlan's Kerry Fish which runs three fishing trawlers and four wet fish shops. “We're very lucky to have access to fresh fish," she agrees, “but we pay for top quality and serve only fresh, wild local Irish fish. If anybody can get fish when the weather is bad, that's us,"

Although daytime food business could be busy, Kate and husband Andrew could see that, in common with others in the area, they were suffering from "Ring of Kerry in a day syndrome" Cars and coaches would pass through the towns from morning to late afternoon, then head back to Killarney or Kenmare for dinner and overnighting" And it didn’t help that Cahirciveen had a shortage of accommodation," Kate adds.

That changed in early 2011 - when the Cookes decided to bite the bullet and develop guestrooms. It was a distinct advantage tha Kate had trained in hotel management in Shannon and subsequently spent seven years with the Jury's Group before meeting Andrew in England and bringing him back to Kerry. “We’d taken over an old licensed premises and built up the restaurant over ten years, so we decided that adding guestrooms was a risk worth taking.”

QC’s Townhouse has just completed its second summer season and Kate says that their biggest problem now is that they don’t have enough rooms. Steady demand for the five rooms means ten extra diners in the bar and restaurant - and that attracts others,” Kate points out. Having acccommodation has also opened up new markets like the golfing and angling sectors, “We’ve been named preferred supplier of food and accommodation to Peninsula Pass, a grouping of The Dooks, Skellig Bay and Ring of Kerry Golf Clubs, and independent tourists stay longer and do more in the area when there's good accommodation.”

The restaurant has been expanded too, with a glass covered courtyard carved from the hillside and made colourful with tiles that reflect a bit of Spanish bias to the menu. Olive oil and garlic bring Mediterranean flavours to sizzling Dingle Bay prawns with a spark of chilli or crispy calimari frito with lemony aioli. A house specialty of Valencia crab from down the road is baked in chilli and garlic cream sauce and served with tomato and avocado salad, as a starter or main course.

QCs - interiorQC's crisp battered fish with handout chips is a perennial favourite served in classic style with mushy peas. Kate reveals that the secret of their ultra light and crispy coating is in the batter made up with one part of cornflour to three parts plain flour mixed with frothy beer. “We try to keep things simple and concentrate on getting the freshest and best quality seafood even though it's more costly than farmed and frozen fish. Our crab for instance, is always fresh from Valencia even though it's more expensive than the pasteurised and processed crabmeat."

Head chef Eddie Gannon has been with the Cookes for seven years and has developed a menu that includes favourites like scallops mornay made with local cheddar and creamy potato-topped seafood pie combining wild salmon, whitefish and prawns. Thai red seafood curry with scented rice appeals to modern tastes and the catch of the day is flagged on a specials blackboard - perhaps monkfish and scallops with a red pepper purée or roast hake with samphire, prawn, mussel and lemon risotto.

Ray wings, seldom seen outside Dublin, are paired with lemon and shrimp butter at QC's , a dish that was a hit with the crew of a Spanish trawler grounded for repairs in the harbour, "I was puzzled when the plates came back completely cleared,” Kate recalls. "Then I was told that the Spanish custom is to eat ray wings bones and all."

Looking back on their best season ever, the Cookes feel that maintaining quality through the hard times has been worth it. "The combination of the restaurant and accommodation has been greater than the sum of its parts," Kate reflects, "We've bucked the trend and expanded our market - now we're considering extending our winter season, so watch this space!”

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