Hint of Capri in east Cork

 

This unassuming Youghal restaurant offers an unusually satisfying trattoria experience

I HAVE A THEORY that the majority of us here in Ireland hate fish, trees and clearing up after ourselves. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

I don’t understand it. Austin Clarke told us that “the house of the planter is known by the trees” which is a pun in the Irish context, but it’s hardly an explanation of the anti-tree tendency. And most of the population being forced to eat fish on Friday for centuries doesn’t seem to have bothered the Spanish. Why should it us? And the generation of squalor? I haven’t a clue.

I bought some hake, hurriedly, from a respectable purveyor of creatures of the deep the other day. When I got it home I noticed its dull yellowish tinge and a pong that was well on the way to Esprit de Charnel House. I think I’ll just give up. It’s bad enough having to examine your conscience on issues of sustainability without having to sniff the stuff in the shop.

Anyway, fish featured in a big way on a recent family outing to Youghal. Advised by a friend who lives in the town, he suggested we go off-piste at Capri Bay, an unremarkable looking trattoria on the Main Street in which someone has gone mad with the rag rolling.

Actually, we didn’t intend to follow his advice to the letter but rather order a great big platter of cheese and salami and prosciutto to start and then return to the menu itself, especially as lobster linguine was a special of the day at €18. However, we got the platter followed by good fishy things, which we had mentioned in passing rather than actually ordering, that the kitchen put together for us. And it was rather splendid.

I went off-menu the other day with my old friend and colleague Paolo Tullio in the Via Veneto in Enniscorthy and it was a very impressive if waistline-expanding experience. Suffice it to say that it was a magnificent and lengthy repast, including a proper, cream-free spaghetti carbonara. Definitely worth a visit.

Likewise Capri Bay, where the platter was munificent: lovely salamis, melting prosciutto, cheeses from Piemonte (especially pungent), Sardinia and Sicily, marinated olives, excellent home-made white bread served with nutty olive oil.

And then on to the produce of the grill: slices of tender squid, fillets of monkfish, king prawns, local, delicate lobsters. And just in case this was not enough, a big dish of plump mussels from Kerry and flavour-packed clams cooked with fresh tomato and garlic.

This was one of those leisurely meals, full of little surprises and delights, accompanied by lots of chilled water, well-filtered, and the fragrant crisp house white wine from Sicily.

More conventional diners, many of them impeccably behaved small children (this is a place where they are made very welcome – possibly a case of chicken and egg, or maybe this is a place that attracts well-behaved parents), tucked into pasta and very attractive-looking, vast, thin pizzas.

It all seemed very authentically Italian. Gerald and Giovanni, the two Italians who run the place, are wildly enthusiastic about food and they have created a friendly, value-for-money and utterly down-to-earth restaurant that delivers for everyone.

The sun shone brightly on this elongated coastal town, the sea twinkled in the unfamiliar light and we ate a meal that was as simple as it was lovely. Nothing fancy but the detail was here, from the mixed leaves grown by the special needs community at nearby St Raphael’s to the directly imported wines and cheeses.

With 750ml of house wine, gallons of the property’s own highly potable water and two reasonable espressos, the bill for this lunchtime feast for five came to a shade over €90.

Don’t expect Locanda Locatelli, for heaven’s sake. Just decent food at fair prices and something rather unusual in an Irish trattoria: local ingredients, where appropriate, and tons of pride.

THE SMART MONEY

There’s nothing unsmart about any of the prices here. Linguine with local lobster, in a light tomato sauce, with 250ml of white wine and an espresso will set you back less than €25.

Read Megabites, Tom Doorley’s blog on all things foodie, at irishtimes.com/blogs/megabites

WINE CHOICE

The list is short and, to be honest, I’m not familiar with much of what is on offer (and most of it comes direct from Italy). House wine, a delicious, crisp and fragrant Inzolia and a chunky Nero dAvola, both from Sicily, weigh in at €6 for 250ml, €9 for 500ml and €17.50 for a litre. Try beating that!