Eamon Barrett finds sublime seafood cookery in Rosslare’s Wild & Native.
Drive through Rosslare in the winter months, especially if Kelly's Hotel is closed for its winter break, and you might wonder what the attraction of this far flung village on the extreme South East coast is. A few shops and a beach - so what?
But in the summer, when the sand sneaks its way onto the streets and those same streets are teeming with life and the joy of people on holidays, it can feel a little like Ireland’s answer to the Hamptons.
Opening a seafood restaurant in the shadow of the mighty Kelly’s might seem like folly but Wild and Native, a seafood restaurant that opened as a café a little over a year ago but now only serves in the evening, is a fantastic addition to this seaside destination. And with a blackboard outside declaring 'Sorry, we are fully booked' (on a Wednesday evening!) W&N has obviously been a hit with the well-heeled holidaymakers that come to this part of the country in July and August.
Owned by Fergal and Jodie Dempsey, this lovely room is cleverly decorated with varnished pallets, fish nets and twinkling lights. Fergal has manned the stoves in Dublin's Shelbourne and Morrison Hotels, so he knows what he's doing and in Rosslare the couple found exactly the premises they were looking for to start their own restaurant. The menu is more or less completely seafood - you might find a steak or chicken option on the mains and a soup on the starters – but with fish cooking this good, why bother with steak?
Mother was with me for the spin and she's as stern a critic as you could ask for but she demolished her starter bowl of mussels with clear enjoyment. I was allowed one or two to taste and they were silky and plump. Really good homemade breads were perfect for mopping up the garlicky broth. My own prawn cocktail with ‘Sherry-spiked Marie Rose' consisted of hefty prawns, meticulously cooked and - hallelujah - not fridge cold and - hallelujah again - not served in an awkward glass but in a bowl. Served with a great salad, this was delicious, even if the Marie Rose could have done with a bit more of that sherry spiking. Mother went for hake for her mains while I tried the crab mornay. A truly huge portion of hake arrived, cooked to absolute perfection and served with a simple lemon and parsley butter: it was a really glorious piece of fish that thankfully was too much for my mother's appetite so I got half of the fish. The crab mornay was shellfish as comfort food; an oval bowl with a glistening crust of scorched cheese covering a creamy mix of rich crab and bechamel. Suffice it to say, all conversation at the table stopped. Wonderful Wexford potatoes, baby turnip and white cabbage made for excellent vegetable accompaniments.
From a traditional array of desserts we chose a lemon meringue pie between us but it was the only disappointment of the evening, with barely a hint of lemon sharpness and too much cream. That mis-step aside, I'd gladly skip dessert to eat fish cookery this good. No surprise that the room was full to capacity. Service from a really capable team of well-trained staff was excellent throughout the evening. There's a strong focus on local suppliers and an interesting wine list with a good selection by the glass. Starters are mostly €8.50 and mains are all under €25.00 with the exception of black sole or lobster. I'd recommend booking well in advance.
Photographs by Eamon Barrett
Wild and Native, Rosslare Strand, Co. Wexford.