There was some sadness in Cork when chef Brendan Cashman decided to close down his popular restaurant Augustine's, which was located in the Clarion Hotel. As a regular guest of the hotel, I watched the empty space with curiosity, wondering what type of restaurant would open in its place. Eventually, renovation works started and signs appeared promising Cork's first ever dedicated seafood restaurant.
It turned out that the man behind Oysters is Donald Morrissy, former deputy general manager at the Clarion. Given that the dining room doubles as the hotel breakfast room, there is some clever concealment of the hot counter and other permanent fixtures. Some of the tables have been removed from the dining room, thus creating a little more space which definitely gives the room a slightly more refined and comfortable feel than it had before.
We were dining from the €35 Table d'Hôte menu, which offers 5 courses. A little plate of bread along with a fresh fish pate and some quite bizarre vanilla butter arrived, followed by an amuse bouche. My starter of crab with pink grapefruit, asparagus, radish and dill mayonnaise was clean, light and simple. He chose the half dozen local oysters served simply with shallot vinaigrette and lemon. The oysters appeared to be unusually somewhat small, but were bright and fresh.
My soup course of cauliflower and cumin velouté was well-blended and warming, but I found the two small dumplings to be superfluous and bland. It would have been much better to let the velouté speak for itself. However, the Oysters seafood chowder was an absolute knockout. The addition of samphire and pancetta to a rich bisque, along with perfectly cooked pieces of seafood, resulted in a beautifully coloured and flavoured dish. I would happily drive back to Cork for more of this alone.
|Clockwise from top left: Oysters seafood chowder, fresh oysters on the shell, cauliflower and cumin velouté, crab and pink grapefruit|
Oysters does offer some limited non-fish options, but to be honest, when one is in a seafood restaurant, one orders seafood. Fish of day was served with perfect Boulangere potatoes, a light pancetta and baby gem stew finished with broad beans. A little serving of carmelised orange zest added sharp sweetness, balancing the fresh broth and dense potatoes. Sea bream was served with minted ratatouille, perfect saffron arancini, fennel and herb oil. In the case of both dishes, the fish was spot on with moist flesh and perfectly crispy skins.
|Fish of the day and sea bream|
We finished our meal with a selection plate of homemade desserts, including a tangy raspberry sorbet and a dense, fudgey chocolate cake. Throughout the dinner, we had drank an Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) which worked really well with the seafood.
My only gripe with Oysters is the pricing. Quality seafood is rarely cheap, but as someone who stayed in the Clarion Cork for the bones of a year, I simply couldn't justify paying the a la carte prices on a regular basis. And while the 5 course set menu is good value, it's still too much food to eat regularly. Perhaps Oysters could offer hotel guests a slimmed down menu at a leaner price? I know that I would avail of such an option.
Oysters has delivered what it promised. Fresh seafood is beautifully cooked and served with a understanding and deft touch from the kitchen team led by French head chef Alex Petit. The main seafood supplier is Seafood Cuisine in Skibbereen, an independent operation with three trawlers who ensures that fish caught in the morning is delivered to the kitchen by lunchtime. And during the month of December, every reservation will be entered into a draw to win a pearl necklace worth €500 (winner will be chosen on December 22nd).
I could now start to make some clever puns about Oysters, pearls, jewels and so on. But I'll spare you all that. I'll just simply tell you to go to Oysters and order that beautiful chowder followed by some pan-fried fish. You won't go wrong.Oysters, Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork
Tel: +353 (0)21 427 3777