All the right ingredients

Posted on: 9th May, 2016

Category: Food & Wine

Contributor: Mary O'Brien

Above l-r: Head Chef Caitlin Ruth with manager Elaine Blackwell

In the 12 years since it opened, Deasy’s Harbour Bar and Seafood Restaurant in Ring, just outside Clonakilty, has garnered an impressive number of accolades. The award-winning restaurant features once again this year in John and Sally McKenna’s ‘100 Best Restaurants in Ireland 2016’, is listed in the Michelin Guide 2016 and since scooping ‘Best Gastro Pub’ in Cork in this year’s Irish Restaurant Awards is now in the running for the Regional and All-Ireland title, which will be announced on May 16.

deasys3 deasys1Exciting times for the little harbour restaurant, but Manager Elaine Blackwell and Head Chef Caitlin Ruth have their feet firmly planted on the ground, remaining steadfast in their vision for this coastal gem: to provide wonderful food in a welcoming environment. “We’re happiest when everyone goes home happy at the end of the night,” says Elaine. Locals still enjoy a pint at the bar after service has finished and whether you’re in heels or flip-flops, you’ll be awarded the same warm welcome at this old Irish pub, which although houses one of Ireland’s finest restaurants, has retained every bit of its character and old world charm.

As is inclined to happen in West Cork, this success story started with a chance encounter. Caitlin Ruth was driving past Deasy’s, on her last day at Dillon’s Restaurant in Timoleague, when she noticed the Blackwell’s car parked outside the old pub. She called in to say hello and the rest is history. Elaine was completing an Accounting Degree around the time her family were renovating the pub in Ring. Although passionate about food, she never imagined she’d swap ledgers for menus and be managing a restaurant 12 years later.

“We’re always delighted to be recognised with an award,” says Elaine “but we are very much day-to-day people and it is a shock to us when people make a booking a year in advance or drive from Mayo for a meal. “Yes, we feel no pressure!” says Caitlin laughing.

Although the atmosphere may be relaxed casual in the dining room, there is nothing casual about the food that Caitlin prepares, each ingredient lovingly sourced and each dish created with care.

“And the food has wonderful clarity, with each element fully expressive, and painterly pretty. Overall, her food is both provocative and yet consoling. Overall, Ms Ruth’s cooking is amongst the best in the country.” John McKenna.

A self-taught chef, Caitlin Ruth has worked in restaurants since she was 12. After making her first pot of broth at the age of six, she’s been fascinated ever since with food and what can be created from it.

She recalls going on a school boat trip, as a teenager, where the main ingredients the crew had to survive on were dried and tinned food. “There were 14 of us living on this boat and we had to cook our own food. The ingredients we were given were really awful and I remember taking this packet of tomato soup and trying to make it taste better by blanching some tomatoes to get the skins off and pureeing it all together. The others thought I was mad.”

“I’m driven by my ingredients. And I love a food challenge; if someone says ‘I have capers, lentils and chocolate milk, what can you make?’ that’s my favourite thing to do…create something out of very little, it’s exciting.” Caitlin enjoys creating vegetarian food and would never dream of adding gluten to any of her sauces. “I like it when people come in to the restaurant with special dietary requirements and I can make them something delicious,” she says.

Using the fresh, local ingredients around her, Caitlin aims to make the best food she can. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s often to be found out foraging for wild garlic or sea spinach or picking the leaves off blackcurrant bushes to make sorbet.

This time of year is particularly exciting for the Head Chef. “A few weeks ago, we got the first spears of asparagus from Gilly in Dunworley…18 spears, I was thrilled. On that particular evening, asparagus was served with brill and black rice.

Elaine and Caitlin are always in interested in trying out new ideas at the restaurant and last year they introduced cocktails to the menu. “We had great fun trying them out.” A particular favourite is the Rhubarb Martini — a combination of rhubarb juice, dingle gin, lemon and rhubarb bitters. Now is a good time to pick nettles, while they’re still young, so the Irish Whiskey Sour enjoys a tangy nettle sherbet rim, the perfect topping to the mix of Bushmills, Justin’s Clonakilty mead (honey wine), lemon, egg white and clove syrup. There is usually a choice of four delicious cocktails, which change with the season.

“Prawns have been really lovely but are finishing now,” says Caitlin. “We’ve had a starter of prawns baked with a salt ling brandade crust on the menu, which is really tasty. Crabs are coming into season and John Dory is really nice at moment and the Ling is lovely.”

Another starter that deserves a special mention is the coffee and tea smoked Skeaghnore duck. Caitlin first cured the duck in coffee before smoking it using tea. It’s served with pickled squash, farro, celery and coffee vinigarette.

For the Irish onion soup — a variation on the classic French recipe — Caitlin uses Kinsale pale ale instead of red wine and lamb stock instead of beef; in place of baguette, the soup is served with her own sourdough bread; Coolea cheese mixed with scallions and seaweed is substituted for Gruyere.

Although the menu changes daily depending on what’s in

season and available, there are a few regular favourites like the Thai coconut fish soup and milk chocolate, expresso, salted caramel and pecan torte. “People get really cross when we take those off the menu,” says Elaine smiling.

“For us, it’s all about the food and making people feel comfortable,” explains Elaine. “During the summer it’s a mix of families calling in after a day at the beach or people dressed up on a night out. Everyone is welcome. I would never want Deasy’s to be the type of place that people are afraid to ask about an ingredient or for a wine recommendation.”

The staff doesn’t change very often at Deasy’s, which contributes to the convivial atmosphere of the place. “We’re a family,” says Elaine. “It’s what I love about here, that and the buzz and meeting new people and welcoming them back year after year.”

“We have written recently about the Restaurant Zeitgeist, that energy that makes a dining room the room that everyone wants to be in. Deasy’s has the RZ: once past the swing door, you are where you want to be.” John McKenna.

The Early Bird at Deasy’s is excellent value with two courses for just €26 and three €32. This includes a complimentary glass of wine. Sunday lunch, three courses €32, is served between 1 and 3pm. Deasy’s is very accommodating to children — it’s possible to order half portions, or plain chicken or fish with veg and there is also homemade pizza bread.

Phone 023 8835741 to make a booking.

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