Down on Sheep’s Head, West Cork, pretty much the best hospitality for alfresco dining during the Covid was and remains Arundel’s by the Pier, comfortably tucked away in a small, clement cove, a leeward shelter sheltered from the prevailing Atlantic weather that scours the far western side of the peninsula in an infinitely darker and blasted nature.
There are plenty of canopy picnic tables outside the pretty pub, but across the road is the ‘open air garden’ – a leafy patch of garden that leads out to the sea. Its few picnic tables are insufficient for excess punters who are usually content to sit with pints and even plates on the low stone wall or grass, Dunmanus Bay and Mizen Head on the opposite shore offering some of nature’s best eye candy. To the left is Ahakista Pier where local boats bring in crab, scampi, shrimp and scallops, much of it for Arundel’s menu.
On sunny days and even days with no sun at all, with a pint in one hand and a bowl of fresh mussels in the other, watch children of all ages catapult themselves from the end of the jetty into the water before swimming for starting over is a more wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Tonight, however, is different. Not only are we dining inside, but the pubs are finally reopened. Our motley crew is transported to Mount Gabriel from Mizen by minibus, dazed at the prospect of a “good” evening. Arundel’s, shining like a lighthouse as the half-light melts into the night, radiates its welcome like a friendly lighthouse.
Inside is the “House of Fun”, the social equivalent of trekking through the arid desert to seek out an oasis serving the best champagne, a totally joyful crowd, intoxicated by the spirit of the demo, celebrating the Liberation.
We cross the bar to an unpretentious and unpretentious dining room upstairs, tonight covered with the brilliant bonhomie that comes up from the ground floor. We start with pints and croquettes with Durrus cheese, the exquisite main ingredient offered by their peninsular neighbor.
Horror of horrors, even if we reserve early, the two mussel dishes (spicy nduja; classic marinière mussels) are over, victims of high demand on bank holidays. Four of us immediately bypass lamb shanks with mash or chicken pie, opting for fish and chips.
Since hake can so easily turn to mush when cooked at high heat, this fish is perfect: succulent, sweet, housed in an excellent light and crispy batter, with decent fries and a green salad on the side, all washed down with copious sketches of an acidic, white Italian herbaceous (Ciu Ciu; Trebbiano, Passerina, Pecorino).
There is a solitary smash burger ordered at our adult’s table, the generous patty of good beef from the excellent butchers of O’Donoghue, in nearby Bantry, topped with melted cheese and crispy bacon, tomato and lettuce. , good salad of fresh red cabbage, and crisps on the side.
The evening dish is the vegetable tagine. High-sugar carrots, succulent and silky peppers and eggplants, and nicely al dente chickpeas swim in a bright, spicy tomato sauce with a playful kick of chili, served with pearl hazelnut couscous and fresh green cilantro.
A rustic dukkah (roasted nuts, spices, seasoning) adds complexity and texture to a carefully prepared and tasty dish, a pleasure to see such care and attention given to what is too often a ‘vegetarian’ option. afterwards.
We’re in seventh heaven, but with kids long gone to play hide-and-seek outside in the dark, we reluctantly summon our waiting ‘wagon’, a group of Cinderellas bemoaning the fact that we’re not near midnight. .
Taken over by brothers Tom (chef) and Michael (front) Moloney at the end of the first lockdown in June of last year, locals and tourists alike are rightly thrilled with the fabulous new lease of life given to this longtime local favorite. , no less with their superb sourcing from local producers.
We are all enjoying our meal, but there is still room for improvement, but keep in mind that Tom and Michael did wonders not only to make their debut, but also to consistently deliver in the bizarre conditions that prevailed. in these times of pandemic.
Clear clues abound of their latent ability coupled with ambitious plans to gradually scale their offering to another level entirely when the storm subsides.
For now, we’ll just have to settle for sheltering in the safe haven of one of West Cork’s finest “locals” – and that’s far from being a hardship!
10 (including the Covid ‘bonus’ lift!)
€ 200 (six adults, three children, drinks included, excluding tips)
- Reenacappul, Ahakista, County Cork
- (027) 67033
- Opening hours: Sunday noon only in November; the extended opening calendar resumes in December