Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant, 4 John St, Dingle, Co Kerry. Tel: 066-9152674; www.doylesofdingle.ie
AS we pass the premises that formerly housed the late and very lamented Idá’s, just across from Doyle’s, I feel more than a pang for the now-closed Dingle restaurant where chef/proprietor Kevin Murphy delivered some truly exceptional food for the bones of three years, the class of fare I always believed could have crowned the town’s already sterling food offering with a Michelin star. But, just as Stella Doyle discovered when she took the plunge back in 1973 and opened Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant, a new culinary concept can take time to bed in to a local market, especially if you also have to set about creating that market in the first place.
Her initial concept seemed straightforward — a restaurant serving decent renditions of world-class seafood landed on the nearby quays. What’s not to like? Nonetheless, she struggled in the early days; dining out, then a far more rarified activity; what’s more, locals struggled with the concept of paying restaurant prices for seafood when they could buy the primary ingredients for half nothing directly from the boats; and, of course, the same remoteness of location that ultimately harpooned Idá’s, meant it was pretty much occasional travellers and a few pioneering tourists drawn to the area by
Ryan’s Daughter (filmed nearby) that first kept Doyle’s afloat. But gradually locals too joined the tourists on board and, in an era when a rare good restaurant shone like a beacon in a landscape largely devoid of them, Doyle’s acquired a thoroughly deserved national reputation, commencing an epicurean evolution that has seen Dingle become one of the very finest small towns in Ireland in which to dine out.
Stella sold up in 1997 and current proprietors, chef Sean Roche and partner Anna Scanlon, took over in 2010. Having last eaten here in the mid-’90s, I am unsure of what to expect when we walk through the door of the cosy, stone-walled venue on a crisp autumnal evening but the impact is instantaneous: a buzzing restaurant with a warm welcoming embrace to match pulls that surprisingly rare trick of becoming the only place you want to be in the world at that particular moment. Swiftly seated, a sublime Cúl Dorcha, from West Kerry Brewery, delivered in tandem with an alluring menu, I finally begin to make my peace with the demise of Idá’s across the road.
Save some contemporary twists, Doyle’s menu in 2018 remains close to Stella Doyle’s original offering of sublimely comforting, deceptively simple seafood with a classical twist and No 2 Son’s Dingle Bay crab claws confirm this, an exercise in elemental perfection: sweet meat, immaculately cooked and then soused in garlic butter and herb; it takes a reminder that he is not footing the bill to persuade him to reluctantly share. He is equally — and justly — parsimonious with his duck spring roll, crisp filo pastry housing shredded confit meat; pickled cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce add further textures and flavours.
Current Wife (having again spurned yet another epithet, she’s on her last chance) takes to immediately gushing about our shared warm scallop salad: “Ooooh, you’re going to love this,” says she, “just the way you like them.” And they are: carmelised to a golden brown at the edges, still glistening with garlic butter from the pan, pearlescent white heart; tasting is an equal pleasure, superb produce, cooked superbly. CW’s main course of pan-roasted turbot with caper and herb butter pulls a similar stunt, again, superb fish cooked with confident simplicity.
I pass a blissful spell ferreting out every last bit of the precious sweet meat from my Ventry lobster, baptising each morsel in the accompanying garlic and herb butter (yes, Doyle’s does run on butter and, yes, that alone is a reason for automatic canonisation in my book). Special mention should also be made of our side dish of vegetables — sure, it is yet another traditional ‘tricolour’ of ‘green, white and orange’ (here, sugar snaps, new baby potatoes, carrot) but all cooked with the same loving care and attention as accorded the star ingredients; a subtle but true indicator of a really good restaurant.
I leave it to the progeny to order some old school desserts — sticky toffee pudding and chocolate orange brownie, both sound, both vanquished in minutes. Then we settle back to most reluctantly contemplate our leaving — yet another sign of a really good restaurant.