Food review: crème de la mer at Fish Shop
Fish Shop, 6 Queen Street, Dublin 7. (01) 4308594
So, two tables along from us is a very well-known Irish chef. Dylan McGrath (he of Michelin-star-at-Mint fame, and more recently of Fade Street Social, Rustic Stone and Taste at Rustic), is dining romantically a deux and it's hard to tell which is giving him more pleasure: the food or the loving attention of his companion.
At the next table is an about to be Oscar-nominated Irish film producer. Ed Guiney is just back from the Golden Globes and seizing the chance to grab dinner with his missus during the première of Room down the street in the Lighthouse Cinema.
"I've seen it before," he confides. "Once or twice."
Two days later, Room will add a slew of Oscar nominations to the Golden Globe that Brie Larson picked up in Los Angeles, and because the Best Picture nomination goes to the film's producer, Guiney will find himself, alongside his friend and the film's director, Lenny Abrahamson, elevated to that elite club of film professionals to whom the tag 'Oscar-nominated' (or perhaps even 'Oscar-winning', fingers crossed) will be appended until their dying day. It couldn't have happened to nicer guys.
Given our illustrious fellow diners, you might assume that we are eating in one of Dublin's fancier restaurants, a place with starched table cloths and a snooty sommelier, but in fact, we're in a tiny and rather modest little establishment in a borderline-trendy-but-still-less-than-salubrious part of town. Welcome to Fish Shop, which started life in a shed in Blackrock Market a couple of years back. From there, it grew a devoted following for its superior fish and chips, and last year decamped to these proper bricks and mortar premises.
Peter Hogan and Jumoke Akintola still serve fish and chips, but the offering has expanded to include other fish dishes. The menu is still short, and written daily, according to what the restaurant's suppliers can bring. The focus is on sustainable wild Irish fish, and when there isn't any that meets Fish Shop's exacting standards, then it simply doesn't open. (The bad weather over Christmas meant that the scheduled January reopening had to be delayed).
On the night that we visit, there are four starters and four main courses on the menu, but the bad news is that the smoked haddock croquettes have already sold out. We arrived at 6.30pm, Fish Shop has been open only since 5pm. We reckon that the people who got there before us (and nabbed all the tables, consigning us to the wretched stools in the window) must be regulars and that they know to swoop on the croquettes whenever they're on.
No matter, we harrumph, and settle instead for the fried oysters with an apple and shallot dressing and wood-roasted squid and capers on toast to start. Neither, it has to be said, is a hardship. The oysters - three of them - are in a light tempura-style batter that's a perfect counterpoint to the creamy flesh, and the sweet, sharp salsa offers good crunch and contrast.
Fish Shop is proud of the wood-burning oven in the garden to the rear, and from the evidence of the squid - smoky, tasty, delicious - it's easy to see why. The juices soak in to the bread and the capers set it all off nicely. So simple, yet it's so rare that one comes across dishes executed with such low-key confidence.
And then, along with a welcome move to a table, there's the suggestion of a whole roast turbot between the two of us. We could have gone for line-caught mackerel with green sauce, or slip soles with caper butter or beer-battered haddock... but who in their right mind would turn down the chance of turbot?
It was a whopping fish, easily big enough for three people, served whole, slashed across its width to better absorb the flavours of its marinade and straight out of that wood-burning oven. Somehow, we managed to polish off every last meaty, garlicky, lemony, herby bit of it. A word of warning: don't come to Fish Shop expecting the waiting staff, charming and helpful though they are, to do the hard work for you. This is definitely DIY dining when it comes to getting the fish off the bone.
With the majestic fish come superlative chips with the optional extra of a punchy garlic mayonnaise (you know you want it), and a winter salad of kale, carrot and red cabbage that I only realise later, from looking at Fish Shop's Facebook page, is made with organic local vegetables from the wonderful Jenny McNally's farm in North County Dublin. There's crunch, colour and flavour, and it's terrific.
From a choice of two desserts (the other was lemon posset with shortbread), we opted for an almond cake with poached pears and salted caramel. Served warm, it was the best dessert I've eaten in ages, with the princely price tag of €6. I don't have much in the way of a sweet tooth, but this had me scraping my spoon across the plate to ensure that no crumb was left behind.
With four glasses of wine, and a large bottle of San Pellegrino, our bill for two came to €91, to which we added €20 for effortlessly lovely service.
On a budget
The lunchtime special of fish and chips or fish and salad, with tartare sauce, is €12.50. A two-course lunch costs €15.50 (three courses costs €3 more). Dishes might include fried squid, gurnard with cockles, apples and celeriac, and that divine almond tart with poached pears and salted caramel.
On a blowout
The squid followed by whole roasted turbot and chips, with a winter salad and dessert, would come to €72 before wine or service.
The high point
Bragging rights the next morning.
The low point
The window seats are in a draft and uncomfortable.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Fenelons Butchers in Stillorgan stocks a great range of meat, fish and wild game and has been in business for 50 years.
To celebrate, owner Clif Lenehan is hosting an evening of cookery demonstrations with national treasure, Rachel Allen (pictured), in the Leopardstown Pavilion on Wednesday, March 2, at 7.30pm.
Anna Daly of TV3 is MC for the night, tickets cost €25 in-store or online at fenelons.ie and all proceeds are going to local charities, LauraLynn, and the Blackrock Hospice. Lenehan has guaranteed each charity a minimum of €5,000.