The Seafood Interview supported by BIM - The Tavern Bar & Restaurant

BIM Seafood CircleThis month Marilyn Bright talks to Myles O’Brien of The Tavern Bar & Restaurant at Murrisk, Co Mayo, where local seafood is emphatically the star of the show

Warnings of gale force winds and fifty-foot waves might seem like bad news for many coastal businesses, but at The Tavern Bar and Restaurant above Mayo's Clew Bay, it's a call to step up production in the kitchen. When storms at sea are brewing, the mighty rollers attract super-fit surfers from every corner of the globe and their reviver of choice is The Tavern's hearty seafood chowder served up with homemade brown bread.

Myles and Ruth O'Brien’s seafood mecca at Murrisk has been serving up their ocean-fresh specialities for thirteen years, and it’s a popular port of call for holiday makers heading to nearby beaches or pedalling along the Atlantic cycle path at the bottom of the Tavern's garden.

And, as Croagh Patrick looms above, the wave of pilgrims and mountain walkers climbing this iconic peak mean that numbers dining in the bar, restaurant and garden terrace can rise to as many as 500 - 600 a day at the height of the sunnnier season.

"We were the first in the area to make a feature of seafood and, as the water in Clew Bay is so pure, local seafood is a huge part of our menu," Myles comments. “We get specialities like local oysters and lobsters delivered straight into the door. ”

The Tavern Bar & Restaurant - Co MayoMyles, who trained as a chef at RTC Galway, went on to spend three years in Australia in seafood and Asian restaurants and a further three years in Boston, a city famously described as the home of the cod. Ruth trained in hotel management in Cathal Brugha Street and arrived in Boston's Ritz Carlton via Marlfield House and Ashford Castle.

Returning together to Ireland, the couple recalls the year spent demolishing and rebuilding the old licensed premises they bought at the foot of the ascent to Croagh Patrick in Murrisk. In the beginning, the O'Briens lived above the bar-restaurant and, as business expanded, the upstairs was revamped to provide a fine dining space. "But things change and you have to adapt to the times," Myles observes, "As fine dining declined, we upgraded the bar menu to bistro style and now we have three areas serving food all day.''

Fresh lobsters in a tank greet summer visitors and Murrisk farmed oysters are served up in half a dozen ways - Kirkpatrick style grilled with bacon lardons, oysters Rockefeller finished with spinach and hollandaise, beer battered in a crispy coating, or simply au naturel with red onion vinaigrette.

Fish is mostly local and flagged on the menu - organic salmon and sea trout from Clare Island, langoustines from Killary harbour, Sean Grady's farmed clams and Clew Bay mussels and summer mackerel. Supplier Honoretta McNamara gets a special menu mention in Honoretta's fresh Cleggan scallops served up with award winning black pudding from Kelly's of Newport.

Scallops may also feature in classic coquilles St. Jacques or the Tavern's rib-sticking seafood pie with chunky fish in creamy white wine and dill sauce under a potato topping. Fresh baked cod with Clew Bay mussels in a tomato, coriander and garlic sauce is one of the most popular dishes Myles says, second only to the signature chowder, The Tavern's seafood chowder, a creamy style with a good variety of fish made to Myles’ recipe, is adapted from the chowder served in the Boston Prince Charles Hotel and sells "by the ton”.

Prep is done in-house, with bones and shellfish trimmings used for stocks and sauces. Prawns are shelled in the kitchen and the shells and heads are then cooked down with leeks, onions and tomato purée to make the red stock for a seafood tagliatelle main course.

The Tavern Bar & Restaurant MurriskAlthough Myles reckons that at least ten different varieties of fish appear on the menu most days from April to September, continuity of supply can be problematical on the West coast, when boats are affected by weather and sea conditions. Two years ago he invested in a blast chiller and vacuum packer which enables him to buy in quantity when supplies are good.

"To keep the quality, fish has to be dealt with right away. When we get a big delivery of something like pollock fresh off the boat, I have a retired local fisherman who comes in to help and we'd often work into the night after staff have gone home. The prepped fillets are packed in portions of four, chilled immediately and they'll be just as fresh when we're ready to use them."

Reflecting on changes he’s seen over the dozen or so years, Myles recalls a dining out market that was very much ‘well-done steak and salmon’. ''Food culture has grown now and people's expectations are higher. The Greenway has brought tourism to this part of Mayo, and international visitors have added influences. Ten years ago you couldn't have sold anything like the cajun spiced sea trout or fish cakes with Thai green aioli that are on our menu now."

Myles also finds that customers are willing to try new things when they're properly explained. "Servers must taste dishes so they can sell with confidence. With a good product and enthusiastic staff you can educate people to open their taste buds and get the most enjoyment when dining out.”

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