Sea wor­thy

In Arun­dels, you get ex­actly the kind of food you hope for in a pub by a pier

The Irish Times Magazine - - FOOD - CATHER­INE CLEARY

There’s a dog at the prow of a punt head­ing out across Kitchen Cove. Day trip­pers are wear­ing sea cap­tains’ hats and will soon start to sing. We drive into a Fáilte Ire­land film­scape and pull up out­side the Tin Pub for a pre- din­ner drink.

The bar­man lets us add our own el­der­flower cor­dial to the sparkling water. He’s been up­set­ting women, he tells us, by adding too much or too lit­tle. Dreams of liv­ing here un­furl as we sit in the gar­den and watch a glo­ri­ous sum­mer’s day set­tle over the water.

We’re head­ing to Arun­del’s gas­tropub in Ahak­ista, where the whole place smells like seafood and but­ter. They’re turn­ing away guests who haven’t booked, but we’re sorted. My friend has put in sev­eral phone calls.

But there is as much of a sign of her name on the list as there are clouds in the sky. A brief thun­der­cloud hov­ers. A vaguely grudg­ing of­fer to squeeze us in is taken as a sug­ges­tion that the van­ished book­ing is our fault. Then we are left in the hands of a great wait­ress who could smooth the feath­ers of a small flock of cranky, hun­gry folk. She di­rects us to the silent up­stairs din­ing room. This is fully laid out but mys­te­ri­ously empty. Do they keep it just in case Gra­ham Nor­ton gets a mad urge for the bouil­l­abaisse? His sum­mer house is a mus­sel shell’s throw away. More likely some­one has de­cided not to staff the full restau­rant every night, even in hol­i­day sea­son.

It’s an odd menu. There are two kinds of soup ( French onion and chow- der) on the list of starters, a tuna and egg salad that sounds like a trol­ley dash through a vil­lage Gala. Then there’s a dish called “cream of sweat [ sic] potato” which sounds sus­pi­ciously like a third soup. This is pre­cisely three soups too many for a warm sum­mer evening.

So we dive head­first into fishy mains. And they’re ex­actly the kind of food you hope for in a pub by a pier.

I have claws- on lan­gous­tine, their black, beady eyes star­ing up out of a saffron- laced onion, cel­ery and tomato broth with chunks of cod, hal­ibut and monk­fish crammed in. There are rolls of monk­fish on an­other plate wrapped in smoky rash­ers and fin­ished with a light, mild chilli cream speck­led with prawns.

There’s a grilled whole bass so large he’s dubbed Larry. Any minute now my friend ex­pects his din­ner to turn its head to­wards him, look him in the eye and sing Take Me to the River. He ( the friend not the fish) has asked for the chorizo and gar­lic cream on the side and it’s a good move. The small pot is per­fect for dunk­ing flakes of fresh fish with­out smoth­er­ing its clean flavour.

Desserts get no marks for in­no­va­tion but that’s fine. My heart sinks a lit­tle at the sight of a de­con­structed crum­ble. These clas­sics are done well. The lemon tart isn’t one of those glossy French patis­serie win­dow num­bers, but an al­to­gether softer and more quiv­er­ing lemon fill­ing in a bis­cu­ity pas­try shell. There’s a choco­late mousse that’s al­most mouth- dry­ing in its co­coa con­tent, hint­ing at some good choco­late and a light hand on the sugar. A creme brulee is fine, its lid of burnt sugar a lit­tle too heavy.

It’s dusk when we leave and the pub is a cheer­ful sight and sound as mu­sic wafts out over the water and Arun­dels Tele­tub­bies beer gar­den rolls down to the sea, a fire pit in one cor­ner. This pub has the feel of a place that is be­ing passed to a new gen­er­a­tion. The twen­tysome­things in charge are get­ting some things ab­so­lutely right. But it’s creak­ing and leak­ing a lit­tle around the edges.

Keep­ing all the food and the ser­vice mem­o­rably good in this mem­o­rable place should be the ob­vi­ous plan to sail into the fu­ture.

Din­ner for three with two glasses of wine, dessert and tea came to ¤ 102.05

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