Morans's: Strength in tradition
Moran’s put pub grub on the map nearly 50 years ago, and it is still serving good, simple seafood
T he road ahead is slick with rain and there’s more of it hanging overhead. It’s a wet Galway day, with a dose of squall and bluster. When the youngest bursts into tears at the prospect of leaving the car I know how he feels. But up ahead is the smart red door of Moran’s Oyster Cottage on the Weir at Kilcolgan. This is a building that gives you a hug. It’s a thatched cottage hunkered down at the waterfront. Inside, there’s another miniature cottage built as a bar beside a cast-iron stove and a kitchen dresser held together with a glossy layer of duck-egg blue paint.
So far, so traditional and cosy – as befits a 300-year-old pub. But behind the thatched cottage is a huge extension, several times the size of the original. It’s like a snail giving birth to an oyster.
The menu tells us that Moran’s started serving food in 1967. It was an attempt to stop the pub dying on its feet. The port trade that had once kept three pubs busy had deserted the water and gone to the new road network. The survival plan was built on two simple ingredients: bread and seafood. They had to get people to come off the new roads and back down this winding one, to eat brown soda bread warm from the oven and freshly-shucked oysters.
The simple idea worked and Moran’s became part of the Irish tourist experience. Famous visitors are captured in photographs and cuttings around the place. We choose a snug in the original building, a tiny room with cottage windows decorated with crocheted lace and tapestry cushions on the bench seating. The menu is still all about the crustaceans, unless you’re 10 or four, when plain pasta with butter is what floats your boat. The seven-year-old is feeling adventurous and orders a child’s portion of steamed mussels.
We’re reminded of a terrible lunch in another thatched pub this year. The lumpen food came straight from the freezer via the fryer dished out with the casual disdain reserved for a passing tourist. It felt like trying on a traditional Aran jumper and finding it’s made of scratchy acrylic that leaves a nasty rash.
Not so here. There is nothing elaborate or intricate about the food. A plate of six Edulis or native oysters is just that: six of them on their heavy-as-stone shells. The shells are weightier because they’ve spent longer growing, up to twice the lifespan of the farmed tear- drop Gigas oysters. The meat inside native oysters is meatier, browner and rounder. They’re more of a chew than a slither. And their flavour is creamy and dense. Here, they’re served with lemon or shallot vinegar and simple brown bread. I get a bowl of clams in a garlic, white wine and cream broth.
The beautiful cream shells with delicately etched black lines open to show nuggets of orange and cream coloured flesh, rubbery and good. The soft orange clams are also a hit with the seven year-old. He gets a lesson in how to winkle them out using a small empty shell as a tongs. We get a great plate of fish and chips: two chunks of lemon sole in a Guinness batter, a dish that tastes like it’s never seen the inside of a freezer. The chips are the only slight wrinkle, being greasy rather than crisp.
We finish with a bowl of apple crumble, with a scoop of ice cream for each of the boys. The crumble is light on crumb but made with tart eating apples that haven’t had their apple-y flavour drowned in the stewing.
The pub trade could look to Moran’s in their own crossroads moment, as wine bars and bistros take their customers. Serving up the best of what was around them put Moran’s on the map almost 50 years ago. And it’s still a lesson in how to do it.
Lunch for five with a glass of Guinness and an orange juice came to €86.20