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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Galway’s Supper Club success story finds permanent dig at Clifden

Back in July 2019, I was lucky enough to get a seat at one of The Sea Hare’s first long table dinners at Joyce’s Pub – known locally as Bunny – in Clegane, a village that sometimes Can feel like a car park for people taking Inishbofin. yacht

What didn’t feel like a sumptuous dinner being thrown by an imaginary friend living near the ocean, which local fishermen offer to take the first of each day’s catch.

Word spread, and the rest of that summer’s long table dinner sold out in jig time, and anyone hoping for a €25 lobster and a pint combo on Saturday without pre-ordering is likely to be disappointed.

Three more years, after two more summers at Clegane, during which Sinead Foyle and Philippa Duff occupy The Pier Bar around Joyce’s corner, The Sea Hare is on the move. This week it opened its doors to its new permanent 100-seater home, in the function room of the Alcock & Brown Hotel in Clifden.

“We’re going to town,” Sinead says, “we’re hitting the big time.”

When I speak to him, however, Sinead, the chef and co-owner of The Sea Hare, Philip, and Philip’s husband, Tom Behan, their accountant, are seated at Philippa’s conservatory and Tom’s home near Clegane while working. Running new restaurant is ready. Ideas can be powerful, but the actions to be taken are endless.

“As you reach the end of one list, another appears,” says Philippa, who looks like a woman itching to get away from the paperwork and back to the kitchen.


First Dinner Ready, Set, Go – Prep

“All three of us are pulling the business together,” Sinead says. “Tom is keeping us on the straight and narrow.”

I know from visiting Philippa and Tom’s home last summer—when Tom gave me honey from his bees—that its shelves are laden with one of the most comprehensive collections of cookbooks I’ve ever seen. I also know that, unlike many who love to showcase books by the most fashionable food writers, Philippa has read and cooked from them all.

Philippa says: “I had lived many lives before the Green Sea. “I grew up in Dublin, where I was a lousy student in school. I discovered learning later in life and went to university in the US, where I trained as an environmental scientist and worked in that field.

“Before moving to The Sea Hare and moving to Connemara, I worked with my sister, Clodagh, for seven or eight years at the Glendalough Green Deli and Cafe in Laragh. This was my first experience working in the food sector. I I am a cook, not a professionally trained chef, but I love cooking people.”

Sinead, meanwhile, grew up in Clifden, where you’ll see the name Foyle on the side of some buildings.

“I come from a hospitality background that includes my entire family – my grandmother, my father, their siblings all,” she says. “My mom married in it for her sins – she met dad while he was working at the hotel.

“After school – I wasn’t the most academic, in fact I was the biggest messenger – I thought I wanted to be a travel agent, but I ended up doing an adventure sports course in Cork so I could teach sailing, windsurfing And that sort of thing. That was in the mid 90s, it felt like something new was being done.

“My father had the Clifden Bay, now Foyle’s Hotel, on Main Street, and I grew up working there.

“After college I did seasonal work at home for parents, uncles, aunts and traveled in winters. I traveled to Asia, South America and Australia to take hospitality jobs along the way. When I came home from travel, I worked at Dolphin Beach on Sky Road, my mom’s guesthouse and holiday late business, and then I moved to Dublin. ,

Sinead spent 10 years working on staffing for events at Aviva Stadium and other venues, but got burned out and missed Connemara. She had returned to the West five years ago.

“When our kids were little, Tom and I got down a lot,” says Philip. “We worked hard in Dublin but our social life was here. We happened upon a house in 2006, a fixer-upper, bought it and didn’t do much for it for many years.

“When the kids were teenagers, it was okay that it was all messed up. As they grew, we spent more and more of our time here. Once we raised them, through college and payroll, we went to Dublin. Sold in and moved down. We are here full time since 2016.

“For the first few years I was rattling around, and then I got the idea of ​​a food truck. I contacted Sinead, I didn’t know him well, I met him in a local walking group. Now I’m stuck with her and she’s stuck with me! The food truck was swiftly abandoned by the synagogue and we came up with the idea of ​​going to a pub in Clegane and left.

“We both liked the idea of ​​going to a pub that was closed during the day,” says Sinead. “It is terrifying to see so many shutdowns across the country, I feel like we are losing part of our culture. Even if they only have a home-style kitchen, many can be brought up to standard – pub owners must think outside the box and come up with other businesses. It is a good way to make the building work better instead of sitting idle. Both sides should be open to the idea, it’s not logically difficult, but you have to think differently. ,

The first talks about going into business together took place in January 2019 and The Sea Hare opened its doors on May 18 of the same year.

“Joy’s was very open during the day to have us there, and they open in the evenings on weekends,” Sinead says. “It worked great.”

“We are both territory,” says Philippa, “and we love that Clegane is a working pier and feel that it still has so much potential to be something cute, somewhere you would like to have a pass-through place. Instead of going for a walk, the car park for Inishbouffin. Clegane could very well be, as Newquay is with Linnan [in Co Clare], It’s a work area, but you go there to eat especially good food.”

“The first summer was crazy,” Sinead recalls. “We thought it was the cafe that was going to work, but what was surprising was that the long table diners took off. We were in business for four months in 2019 and then at the end of the summer the question was whether How to keep the brand in winter?

“We decided to have a secret dinner around Connemara. We’d ask someone to use their house, set up a long table, and only tell people where it’s going to be at 3 p.m. on Saturdays. We’ve already Tickets were sold out but only gave the exact location that day – by then people knew it would be Clifden, or Letterfrack, or Roundstone or anywhere within 5km. Dinner went really well and the idea for winter continued kept. “

Then amid the Covid hit and the lockdown, The Sea Hare was only open for nine weeks in 2020 and 15 in 2021.

“We went for it, hell for leather, as long as we could lift the lockdown every time,” says Sinead, “even though they were very short season because people were holidaying at home, it got a great response. “

Sea Hare’s most famous celebrity visitor was President Michael D. Higgins, who fell during 2020, others include Eamon Ryan and Sean Healy.

“There may have been some actors, but usually someone has to tell me who they are,” says Sinead.

“I’m in the kitchen,” says Philip, “so I don’t see them.”

As of 2019 long tables had to give way to shorter tables under COVID restrictions, but Filipa and Cinead remained the same service style, with a set menu and all dishes served family style.

“As we moved forward, we gained a little more confidence in our food, and the ethos of sourcing everything locally became a little more ingrained during 2020 and 2021,” says Filippa.

And during a lockdown, Sinead and Philippe launched their distinctive tamarind chutney as a condiment, which is now stocked at specialty food stores across the country. “It was a way to keep the hands busy and keep the brand alive,” says Filippa.

For the first two years of The Sea Hare, it was just Sinead and Philippa in the kitchen, with Sinead managing the front of the house as well. “We were our own limiting factor,” says Philip. “Then last year we had some people helping out in the kitchen, and that allowed us to get a little more creative.

The collaboration was held during the winter with chefs Martin Ruffley and Karen O’Donoghue of The Happy Tummy in Westport.

“We are very open to collaboration,” says Sinead, “we like the idea of ​​bringing people here who are doing something different. My idea is that we can be locals to get good quality stuff and go to good restaurants in Dublin. We head out to Connemara to eat, but I like the idea that people will come to us here and we can accommodate that, they don’t have to go east to the coast for a night.”


Carrot Cake A La Si Hare

With the kitchen on their new premises, appliances and furniture purchased, walls painted, signage up, menus drafted and provisional meals ordered, Sinead and Philippe say they are at a level of fear, of themselves. Asking, “What have we done?”

“We’re sticking with our theme,” says Philip. “We are still using as much locally as possible, Johnny King’s famous crab and Louis and Abel Martin’s local fish, rare breed beef from John O’Halloran and milk curd from Velvet Claude sheep.

“We will offer shared plates instead of a set meal, but it will remain a relatively simple, delicious meal, using as much organic produce as we can get.

“The menu is veggie-focused, there may be some fish during the day and meat in the evening. We’re not going for too much fluff.”

The draft menu shared by Philippa with me includes flatbread with crispy chickpea fritters, fried fish of the day with lettuce and lemon mayo, smoked pollock sashimi with seaweed salad, crab body Goan curry and aged dairy cow with horseradish Dishes such as Rib Roast are included. Lobster and mussel specials – phew – continue to be on the weekend menu.

As Synad bargains with energy suppliers and figures out where to get the best deals on milk and butter, Philippa is finalizing the details of the menu.

“We’re sourcing as much as we can from here,” says Philippa. “We’re celebrating what we have.”

For the first few months, Filippa will be joined by chef Raven Diaz in the kitchen, formerly on East Beach near Drogheda, while his wife, Jenny Glasgow, has helped with the interior decoration.

The linens and aprons will be from Stable, the business Philippa’s sister Frances runs with Sonia Reynolds, while the quirky, hand-made dinner plates are by another relative, Claire Finlay.

“They’re staggered and lumpy and delightful,” says Philippe. “Each one is different. Now all I have to do is go to the kitchen, then my feet will be on the ground. I’ll be happy.”

“Philip is so stable, he has to restrain me sometimes,” Sinead says, as his mind moves on to the next thought, “the yin and yang of our relationship works well.”

Sea Hare is open seven days a week, serving a one-day menu during May, with dinner three a week from June. thesaare.ie/

Staying Local: Three Other Hyper-Local Spots


At Goldie’s in Cork City, Aisling Moore writes her menu around whatever fish Deebot brings down that day in Ballycotton. Her sustainable, boneless approach means diners eat species of fish—such as megrim and pollock—they’ve never had the opportunity to try before, as well as fish cheeks and deliciously crunchy spines. www.goldie.ie

Grow Headquarters

At Grow Headquarters in Waterford, Head Chef JB Dubois works with produce from local suppliers, as well as fruits and vegetables sourced from the on-site garden, to create a seasonal, hyper-local menu. www.giy.ie

Camus Farm Field Kitchen

It doesn’t get more farm-to-table than Camus Farm Field Kitchen near Clonakilty, where the organic beef comes from the farm’s own herd, and everything else is home-grown, some carefully selected from local farmers. Complementary with items and artisan makers.

Instagram @camusfarmfieldkitchen

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