It’s hard to surpass a meal of oysters and lobster eaten outdoors within sight of the sea on a sunny day. One of the quintessential joys of the Irish summer, this simple pleasure has never been a cheap one — you can cut costs by shucking the oysters and cooking the lobster yourself — but in Co Clare, on the edge of the Burren, the institution that is Linnane’s keeps things relatively affordable compared to some others.
Mid-afternoon a few weeks back, we turn up without a reservation and are lucky enough to nab the last empty table on the terrace outside. The other customers are a mix of locals and tourists. There’s a man from Alabama on a genealogy trip who is talking so loudly everyone in the restaurant leaves with a comprehensive insight into his Irish roots. Everyone involved in hospitality says the exchange rate means there are more Americans around this summer than for many years. It’s like the good old days.
A bunch of guys arrive by boat, mooring just metres away. They saunter up to the terrace for a feed of pints and seafood. Yes, we all have green-eye, as does their lovely Doodle, who barks a little plaintively at being left on board, not getting to join in. As well he might.
The owners of Linnane’s are Conor Graham, a trained chef, and his business partner, Mark Commins, an accountant. They took over from Graham’s parents, Eileen and Vincent, when they retired in 2016. Graham grew up on the Weir Road in nearby Kilcolgan, and his first job was in Moran’s Oyster Cottage, where Vincent worked for many years and which he and Eileen ran for a time in the early 2000s. It’s safe to say Graham knows a thing or two about shellfish.
Graham and Commins took over Flaggy Shore Oysters (located adjacent to Linnane’s) from Gerry O’Halloran earlier this year, and are now able to supply their restaurant with all its oysters. The bivalves come to Flaggy Shore from a single supplier, Tommy Connolly, who farms them on floating beds in the pristine, grade-A waters of nearby Kinvara Bay. After purification and boxing, they go on to restaurants such as Aimsir and Patrick Guilbaud. Because oysters take on the character of the water in which they are grown, having a single supplier ensures consistency.
I’ve a particular fondness for the delicate, slightly sweet Flaggy Shore dainties, smaller than the Gigas also on offer. So even though there’s an extensive oyster menu offering cooked and dressed options — including grilled with garlic breadcrumbs and deep-fried, which might be a good option for an oyster virgin — we start with a half-dozen of these, naked bar a wedge of lemon. They are quite perfect.
Next, we share a New Quay lobster served with garlic butter and baby potatoes, and an open crab sandwich. The lobster — two claws and half a tail to make up the menu weight of 700g — is served very simply, with a few leaves of Lollo Rosso. It’s been cooked for just the right amount of time (too long and it might be tough) and the garlic butter is retro-fabulous, although an alternative of homemade mayonnaise (rather than the grim sachets on the table) would be nice.
The crab sandwich on dark brown bread is decent too, although the helping of fresh crab from Cathal Sexton in Doonbeg could have been a little more generous. The salad, with its shredded carrot and red onion, is resolutely old school. Again, homemade mayo in place of the Marie-Rose sauce would not go amiss.
Most of the other customers seem to be eating breaded calamari, fish and chips, and chicken wings, all of which must be good given the enthusiasm with which they are being consumed. I can’t help but feeling, though, that Linnane’s is missing a trick in not offering a wider range of seafood (there are wild clams on the menu, and I’m sure these are good), grilled fish and sharing whole-fish options, and presenting its food in a more modern way. Given the location and the owners’ access to high-quality fish and shellfish, this shouldn’t be too difficult. A menu revamp is not going to happen in the middle of a busy summer season (during which Graham has had to step in to the kitchen and even draft in his mum to help due to staff shortages), but the quieter winter months should allow for some tweaking.
The short wine list is well-priced, with some good options for around the €30 mark. The young and friendly staff seem to be mainly local students home for the summer. With a pint of Guinness and a glass of Trimbach Pinot Blanc, our bill comes to €84.55 before service.
Fish and chips will set you back €16.50.
A dozen oysters and crab claws to share followed by lobster and dessert for two will cost around €150 before drinks or service.