Quinlan’s Fish Shop

By Georgina Downes

How do you like your fish and chips? Lightly battered with a slice of sustainability on the side? Not only is fish among the most nutritious food on the planet, if you order from Quinlan’s, your dinner’s carbon footprint will be as small as if you’d caught it yourself —the Quinlan’s guarantee it. In fact, when you pop into one of their shops you can see an account, chalked up daily, of exactly where your supper comes from; which boats are fishing, who’s the skipper and what they’ve caught, so you know it’s as fresh as it can possibly be. And to further pump up their eco-friendly credentials, all their used cooking oil is recycled.

You’d struggle to find a family more passionate about fish than the Quinlan’s from Kerry. Quality and freshness has been their mantra for decades while their award-winning retail and wholesale businesses continues to grow. From humble beginnings in Cahersiveen back in 1960,  Quinlan’s currently have seven Fish Shops and Seafood Bars across Kerry and Cork. They follow age-old recipes, using traditional methods and fine, fresh ingredients to produce one of the finest wild smoked salmon products in the world. Michael Quinlan is in charge of the smoking process and according to the website, he’s ridiculously passionate about smoked salmon and treats each individual fish with tender, loving care. That’s good to know when you’re gently folding a slice of said-salmon across a wedge of brown soda bread, adding zing with a squeeze of lemon. Delicious.

Teresa Kennelly has been Quinlan’s area manager for eight months. We’re sitting in the Tralee Fish Shop. It’s early, no orders yet; we have the place to ourselves. I’m impressed by the way they’ve seamlessly married an eat-in restaurant with a fishmongers. The décor is rustic but smart as paint. Customers can choose the piece of fish they want cooked or they can simply buy their fish fresh to cook at home. A double-height, red-brick wall with QUINLAN’S FISH stencilled across it greets customers as they arrive and I have to say, it really conjures up the idea of steaming fish and chips, smothered in salt and vinegar, wrapped in white paper, somewhere not far from the sea.

Do you eat a lot of fish, I ask Teresa.

“I didn’t eat a lot before I started here. I’d cook bacon and cabbage and that sort of thing but now we eat fish three times a week. I love hake and pan-fried plaice with lemon and butter but I wouldn’t be a great lover of salmon,” she says.

We won’t tell Michael.

“Tastes in Ireland are changing. Lots of children come during their lunch hour. They love chips and tartar sauce. And squid fried in flour is very popular too.”

Remember when Fridays were observed as a day of fasting in the Catholic Church? The fasting rule evolved into no-red-meat-Friday. In our house, it was fish finger Friday; we didn’t live near town so we couldn’t buy fresh fish. Does Teresa see evidence of this legacy nowadays?

“Definitely. Friday evenings are very big for takeaways and a lot of regular customers come in. We stay open Friday and Saturday nights until 9.30pm and 10.00pm.”

Who are your customers?

“Everyone! We get young and old, male and female, national and non-national. Actually, The Asian community buy a lot of fish.”

As we chat, customers arrive and go straight to the striking display of wet fish arranged by fishmonger, Eugene FitzGearld.  Among the hearty fillets of hake, cod and salmon, is a selection of prawns and mussels and an assortment of fish pies, fish cakes and tubs of chowder, all freshly made by a Quinlan chef. Eugene is cheerful and polite. The customers know what they want – they choose salmon darns. Eugene rings up the sale and off they go, smiling.

So what’s Tralee’s favourite fish?

“John Dory is massively popular, followed by Lemon Sole. The battered cod, haddock and hake are always winners with the customers. People are definitely eating more fish. The chowder sells very well too.” Eugene tells me.

Joan Roche is a counter assistant here in Tralee. I ask her if she eats more fish now she’s part of the Quinlan’s team.

“I do. I tried sushi recently and I really liked it.”

Where did you try it, I ask, hoping for a local recommendation because I’ve always wanted to give it a go.

“Tokyo.” She replies.

Oh.

She smiles. “We went as a birthday present for my husband. The Japanese eat all sorts of exotic sushi.”

And you liked it?

“Loved it.”

More customers arrive so Teresa, Joan and Eugene get back to work and I start counting the days to Friday when I’m definitely coming back for a portion of excellent fish and chips. In the meantime, here are some facts, fishy and otherwise to whet your appetite:

  • Fish and chips have 1/3 fewer calories than other popular takeaways
  • Halibut means holy flatfish because it was only eaten on holy day
  •  Sharks are the only fish that have eyelids
  • A floury potato is best for chips
  • Thick chips absorb less oil than thin ones, so chunky chips are the healthier option
  • National Fish and Chips Day takes place once a year in Ireland
  • Italian Giuseppe Cervi, opened Ireland’s first chipper near Trinity College in the late 1880s
  • Sailfish are the fastest fish in the world reaching speeds equal to a car on a road
  • The slowest fish is a seahorse
  • There are approximately 80 species of fish in Irish waters