Ireland’s Rock Oysters at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud

By Rand Hoch, Travel Editor

The best time to enjoy Ireland’s oysters is in the Fall, when Ireland’s strict conservation laws permit the Emerald Isle’s “native” oysters to be drawn from the sea.  When September rolls around, the native oysters can be drawn from the Atlantic and enjoyed through April (the months which include the letter “r”).  However, for reasons unknown, I recently have found myself traveling to the British Isles only during the Summer months.

Therefore, once again, I am unable to provide any first-hand information about the best oysters to be found in the British Isles – the natives.  I do intend to return to Ireland during oyster season, to enjoy the small, flat, round oysters grown in the tidal sea beds around Galway and other select localities.  From what I repeatedly have been told, Ireland’s native oysters are firm and chewy with a sharp minerality.  I look forward to sampling them soon.

However, my recent oyster sampling was limited to the farmed, “rock” oysters, which are harvested and served in Ireland year round.  As those of you who follow my posts know, I prefer to enjoy my oysters “naked”.  (The oysters are naked  – unadorned with anything other than a spritz of lemon, if that.  I am usually fully clothed!)  So, as I began my tour of oyster bars around Ireland, I sampled naked rocks by the platter.  While I found them generally pleasant, they were not initially inspiring.

During my stay at a hotel close to Merrion Square in central Dublin, I shared my oyster dilemma with the a concierge, who encouraged me to head down the street a few blocks to Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud - Ireland’s only restaurant with two Michelin stars.  She recommended their oysters, advising me that I needed to expand my horizons beyond nakedness. Intrigued, I had her make dinner reservations for a party of five.

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud is located in the depths of an 18th century Georgian townhouse adjacent to the Merrion Hotel.  We arrived early to check out the hotel’s art collection – and to enjoy cocktails on the sunken patio at the back of the restaurant Grey Goose on the rocks generally works wonders on my palate prior to – and during – oyster samplings.

As dusk set in, we moved indoors to the spacious dining area.  For a basement restaurant, the combination of high ceilings and exquisite lighting worked perfectly to emphasize the bold contemporary art throughout the restaurant.

While almost all of the clientele was dressed in upscale, yet somewhat comfortable attire, the staff was strictly formal, down to their tails. The service was so French – impeccable, romantic, yet slightly haughty.

We were immediately transported from Dublin to Paris.

We each ordered the four course menu consisting of an appetizer, a fish dish, a meat dish, and desert for €130 (roughly $US 175) and selected from a wide range of selections, sampling almost every intricately crafted dish on the day’s menu.  While I could write paragraphs on Chef Guillaume Lebrun’s locavoric leanings, the freshness of the intricately prepared and plated courses, let me just say that we thoroughly enjoyed course after course.

Now, for the oyster appetizer.

The daily menu featured Carlingford oysters from Northeast Ireland.  These tender, slightly nutty oysters were brilliantly balanced with toppings that included shallots, ginger, an “oriental style dressing”, coriander and lime.  From the initial saltiness through to their distinctively mineral finish, Chef Lebrun’s creation proved that naked isn’t always best – at least when it comes to Ireland’s rock oysters.

I can only imagine what he will come up with once September rolls around....

Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud
21 Upper Merrion Street
Dublin 2, Ireland      
353 1 676 4192     
Lunch: Tuesday - Saturday:  12.30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. (last orders)
Dinner: Tuesday -Saturday:   7.30 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. (last orders)