It’s long gone 10 o’clock on Saturday night but, for the staff in Bantry’s The Snug, there is no chance yet to ease up, kick back, and call it a day.
Pressure for a table is still intense: the 5 French tourists at the bar are waiting to eat, and there are a 3-top and a 4-top of locals still hoping for a table.
It’s always like this in The Snug. The pressure starts around noon, and rarely lets up. Maurice and Colette O’Donovan’s bar and restaurant seems to cater for Avoca-style numbers, yet it’s the tiniest and narrowest of rooms, a place where the wait staff have to be greyhound-skinny to navigate between the shoals of eaters.
The popularity is easily explained: the cooking in The Snug is simple, true and tasty. On a Saturday night, after the week’s work, you want a bottle of Mountain Man and that Goleen steak with fried onions. You want some white wine and the john dory. The younger folk want the deconstructed burger, and the turbot with crisp garlic.
And this kitchen delivers. In truth, they over-deliver: portions are hugely generous, and so there are bowls of floury spuds along with the fries, and vegetables for everyone, so much that there soon isn’t space on the table.
No matter. Generosity and hard graft have made The Snug an icon of Bantry for the last 24 years, and their success has led to the creation of the brand-new O’D’s, a svelte and beautifully designed new space on two floors, right beside the pub.
The style is splendidly low-key and classy, and it’s likely that Maurice and Colette O’Donovan will find themselves with an entirely new restaurant audience, alongside the clamouring hordes they already feed in The Snug.
O’D’s has certainly gifted visitors to Bantry with a smart new destination, and it’s going to be the spot where everyone attending the twin Chamber Music and Literary festivals in the town is going to be hanging out and eating. A taste of that Goleen fillet steak, and a bottle of Mountain Man, or a pristine plate of perfectly cooked fillets of John Dory fillets, and you know for sure that you are in West Cork.
Bantry Festival Destinations:
Hannah and Rachel Dare’s wholefood shop, bakery and café recently celebrated 20 years of business, during which time this Glengarriff Road destination has gotten bigger and better in every way. They should have won The Irish Times Best Shop award in 2016, but maybe 2017 will be their year: they and their fantastic staff deserve it. Fantastic wine selection, incidentally, if you need a bottle to bring back to the rental. Organico.
The Stuffed Olive
Trish, Sarah, Bernie and the rest of the Stuffed Olive girls brew up delicious Cork Coffee Roaster’s coffee, make the best sandwiches, tarts, fritattas, veggie burgers, cookies and cakes, and – should you find yourself sharing a rental during the festivals – they also make superb food-to-go, and they have good wines to go with your dinner. The Stuffed Olive.
The Fish Kitchen
A sweet and intimate upstairs room, above the fish shop in the centre of town, is home to Ann-Marie’s excellent seafood cookery. Daytime sandwiches are spot-on, and literary heads will surely want a Barefoot Bohemian to drink with that crab meat on brown bread. The Fish Kitchen.
The best collection of craft beers in town, and one of the best collections in the country. Unspoilt, original West Cork pub, with charming staff. Ma Murphy's.
This pristine store is home to the best fish and chips you can buy, all of it made to order, and made with craft and care by devoted staff. Just a pity they have no wine licence.
A few miles west, out in Ballylickey, Manning’s is one of the most unusual destinations in West Cork, and one of the best. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it looks like a grocer’s shop: the food here is seriously good, the drinks are ace. Manning's Emporium.
Sea View House Hotel
A grand Victorian hotel, set back from the road just past Manning’s Emporium, the Sea View has long been a legendary West Cork address. Ronan O’Sullivan has taken up the reins after the illustrious tenure of his aunt, Kathleen, and it’s wonderful to see new energy in this grand destination. Sea View House.