It’s rare to find an iconic restaurant which over the best part of two decades has remained fresh, vibrant and at the top of its game. Eithna’s by the Sea on Sligo Food Trail is one such pearl, no wonder it won Seafood Restaurant of the Year just two years ago. Talking with its eponymous owner, Eithna O’Sullivan, is as invigorating as a brisk walk by the sea itself. She retains all her enthusiasm and passion for creating good food and has accumulated more experience of food, cooking, restaurants and food service than an entire Masterchef kitchen!

A native of Rosses Point, Eithna’s life in restaurants began in Bests Shop in Sligo where a summer job introduced her first to the sweet shop and then to the restaurant. Thankfully it was the latter which held more appeal for her. Several summers waitressing in the restaurant at Rosses Point Golf Club ensued, before she moved to Galway to study Hotel Management.

A trainee placement in Ashford Castle turned into a regular summer job and really whetted her appetite for good food. “It was a real eye opener”, says Eithna, “I was introduced to fine dining, pastry chefs and all manner of things I hadn’t experienced before. I just loved it.” She naturally gravitated to the kitchen, asking questions, watching what was going on and learning, learning, learning.

Eithna has fond memories of John McCarthy, an old school style chef, who taught them weekly on the course. “He was the kind of person who responded when someone took an interest in his course – he took a real interest in return and I learned so much from him”, Eithna recalls. She became familiar with Moran’s of the Weir and Paddy Burke’s in Clarinbridge and brought all her ideas back to Rosses Point.

She began working in Austie’s the legendary local which at that time didn’t serve food. Eithna soon changed that situation and built a reputation for delicious fresh food, expanding from snacks to lunch and then dinner. Many people still recall their famous Sandbank Sandwiches, stuffed to the gills with fresh seafood, and the Chocolate Whiskey Cake too., Eithna took Austie’s over for a three year stint and wound up winning the Black & White Pub of the Year. Time then to move away from the pub trade and into the food arena completely.

Moving to Dublin, Eithna completed a Cordon Bleu cookery course and gained valuable experience in some of the city’s finest restaurants including the legendary White’s on the Green. Her heartstrings were still tugged by the lure of the west and when she saw a building in Mullaghmore, literally on the water, she bit the bullet. In 1990 she opened Eithna’s by the Sea and a little bit of history was born. Over the years she has also spent time working at the Organic Centre in Rossinver learning all about vegetarian and vegan cooking and introducing that in her menus. She has a passion for seaweed (which is literally on the doorstep) and constantly innovates with it, bringing aspects of many cultures into her cooking.

Eithna has stayed true to her original principles – creating fabulous food with quality local ingredients. “We were pretty much the first in Sligo to focus so strongly on local producers”, says Eithna, “At this stage the vast majority of our raw ingredients come from a ten mile radius”. That radius includes the seaward side of course, and many of Eithna’s signature dishes are centred around seafood – fish, shellfish and seaweeds. Eithna opens ‘with the season’ when the fishing boats are heading out and the first of the local vegetables are peeping their heads above the soil.

It sounds so simple when she puts it like that … just like all the best ideas do. #SligoFoodTrail

Radio Interview

Listen in to Marguerite interview with Claire Ronan on Up & Running Business Show recorded on the train.