The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - The Oar House

BIM Seafood CircleMARILYN BRIGHT talks to the folk behind Howth’s busiest and buzziest harbourside restaurant, The Oar House – a relatively new restaurant but part of along-established business, and one with its own fishing boat to boot.

Supported by BIM

Well fed seals splash about the sound off Howth, successfully cadging the odd mackerel or dab thrown off the trawlers that chug into the bustling harbour. The once quiet seaport is vibrant with strollers and shoppers drawn by the colourful rows of rejuvenated warehouses that now house buzzy cafes and fishmongers purveying some of the east coast's finest seafood.

The OarhouseThe Dorans are no newcomers to the seafaring industries clustered along the coastline. Formerly running trawlers and supplying their fish wholesaling and processing operations from a base in the centre of old Dublin, the firm celebrated 50 years in business last year. As city development encroached 25 years ago, Doran’s moved to Howth, expanding business to include a retail shop that proved a draw to locals as well as sight-seeing city visitors.

Sean Doran recalls that a casual chat with John Aungier of Casa Pasta on the harbourfront triggered the idea for a seafood restaurant on the pier. The two formed a partnership and opened the Oar House in August 2006 converting what had been Doran's smokehouse into a nautically themed restaurant retaining the old beams and corrugated iron roof that bear witness to its industrial past.

The sight of fresh fish being landed from trawlers (one of them their own) literally at the front door of the restaurant proved an irresistible draw for customers and reputation built quickly. "'When we say catch of the day on the blackboards, we really mean fish that has been caught that day,” Sean says.

John Aungier is at the helm in the kitchen and recently accepted the Oar House’s award as Georgina Campbell Seafood Restaurant of the Year 2013 sponsored by BIM. He describes the menu as seafood classics balanced by contemporary trends and makes sure that old favourites are there along with the daily changing catch of the day and blackboard specials. “We try to put at least one or two unusual things on every day. We find that people are willing to be a lot more experimental than they were in the past, hut we wouldn't go too mad or put on anything too complicated."

Oar House fish and chips is a steady winner with fish of the day in crisp beer batter, the chips handcut and served with mushy peas. The fresh Dublin Bay prawns are universal favourites and Doran’s get through 300 kg a week between the shop and restaurant sales. With the downturn in consumer spending, Sean says they aim for a good line-up of less expensive dishes, with a couple of prime fish choices like turbot or sole, which mostly sell at weekends and at holiday times as a treat.

The Oarhouse interiorPlentiful mackerel way be simply grilled with herby butter or given blackened cajun treatment with blue cheese mayo. Many of the choices like crab cakes with remoulade sauce or creamy seafood chowder may be ordered as a tapas size starter or main course. With the day's catch displayed on ice, customers can go up to the counter to select their fish for the chefs to cook to order.

The Oar House is unique in its seven-day opening, serving from noon to late every day. A busy kitchen brigade of six work in shifts, complementing a 35-strong staff which is a mix of full and part-timers, most of whom have been there long term,. Sean and John take pride in the staff level of knowledge about the food they’re serving and their ability to answer customers’ questions.

“We run a refresher training session once a year,” Sean explains. “We go through the different types of fish and shellfish - the difference between pelagic and demersal fish, where they're caught, what they look like and how they're prepared. Everybody, even old-timers, has to attend and we have a wine tasting afterwards as a bit of a reward.”

Sourcing local, seasonal and organic food as much as possible, along with the key issue of sustainability is the declared aim on Oar House menus. “People are open to eating a greater variety of fish than ever before, so we've moved beyond just cod, plaice and salmon. And we can serve up things like monkfish cheek, so we’re making better use of the whole fish, and that’s not a bad thing.”

19th November 2012
Tommy Martin
The Oar House, great fresh fish, staff who really really know their business. All of the above and more sums up The Oar House, not forgetting John Anger and in particular his little specials that appear from time to time. The 2013 award is well deserved .Tommy Martin
30th November 2012
Kind comments Tommy, and we couldn't agree more. Everyone loves The Oar House!

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment
Not a member? Register for your free membership now!
Or leave a comment by logging in with: