Monday 23 April 2018

Fish Shop: 'We ran our fingers around the plate so as not to waste a drop'

Fish Shop, 6 Queen Street, Dublin 7. (01) 430 8594

Fish Shop, 6 Queens Street Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly.
Fish Shop, 6 Queens Street Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly.

Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that I reviewed a restaurant called Fish Shop just a couple of months ago, and here I am back again. Truth be told, I'd be happy eating at that Fish Shop any number of times, but this week I'm at this Fish Shop, which happens - confusingly - to be located just around the corner and owned by the same people.

That Fish Shop is on Benburb Street and is a simple yet stylish fish and chip outfit, with a few stools at a counter and more along the wall. The short menu - fish, chips, a handful of other delicious morsels - is executed impeccably.

That Fish Shop also happens to have one of the most interesting wine lists in the city, packed with a natural and biodynamic wine offering that may be commonplace in Paris these days but is something quite out of the ordinary for Dublin. This Fish Shop is also of modest appearance, but deceptively so, with a level of fish cooking and eating far more accomplished than the premises might suggest. Clearly, I'm not alone in this thinking, as this Fish Shop was recognised as offering The Best Seafood Experience in Ireland at this year's RAI Irish Restaurant Awards.

Fish Shop began in an even more modest way, a few years back, at a stall in Blackrock Market. Ex-teachers Peter Hogan and Jumoke Akintola quickly established a reputation for serving great fish and chips. Blackrock Market has a track record as a lucky incubator of good restaurants. It is also where Canteen, now located in Celbridge, began, and is currently home to Heron & Grey, which was awarded a Michelin star in its first year of operation, which is almost unheard of. (The latest news from H&G - other than that a lunch last month confirmed that Damien Grey's food continues to escalate in complexity and precision, and that Andrew Heron's wine pairings are ever more inventive and assured - is that the restaurant now has its very own lavatory, and very nice it is too.)

When Fish Shop on Benburb Street opened last year, it allowed Peter and Jumoke to up their food game at Fish Shop on Queen Street. The latter now only serves a no-choice tasting menu priced at €55, with wine pairings an additional €40. Booking is via the Tock system, which requires customers to pay a €20 deposit to secure their reservation. Fish Shop has a very small number of seats - just 16 - and it can't afford to bear the cost of people who don't honour their bookings. No-shows are a huge problem for restaurants in Ireland and a very real threat to the existence of some.

On the night of our visit, the sun is shining and Peter invites us to sit in the garden and have a glass of wine with our snacks. This outdoor space has come on a bit since we were last here and there's a table that would seat eight or 10 which would be fun for a group. Also in the garden is a wood-burning oven in which Jumoke cooks all the fish, and a smoker with which they are experimenting, successfully judging by the delicious house-smoked Clare Island organic salmon that comprises one of the snacks; smoked pollock croquettes and miniature brown crab tarts are the others.

There are seven courses in the tasting menu, but each is so light and virtually starch-free that it does not feel like too much food. (It's the same at H&G, where I think there were nine courses for lunch, and everyone got up from the table saying that they could sit down and do it all over again straight away.)

We start with hand-dived scallop, broad beans and crème fraîche topped with pea shoots, that is a perfect summer moment on a plate - nutty, sweet, and delicate, all at once - followed by another iteration of scallop, this time the roe, served with two spears of asparagus, over which Jumoke has sprinkled a fine grating of Cáis Na Tíre (an Irish sheep cheese with notes of caramel and pear worth seeking out).

The next course is a plump slip sole, liberally doused in seaweed butter that is nutty and tangy and brinily gorgeous - good enough to have us running our fingers around the plate so as not to waste a drop. And then there is a broth of turbot with greens from the wonderful McNally Family Farm, followed by a tranche of the fish itself with Roaring Water Bay mussels in a cidery sauce that I would never have thought to serve with the turbot but works just perfectly.

By way of sweetness, there is a yoghurt panna cotta (made, I think, with Velvet Cloud sheep's yoghurt but I may have mis-remembered) served with poached peach and topped with elderflower, and also a small piece of almond cake that is damp and good.

The wine pairings have been astute and unexpected, and it turns out that as the pair have immersed themselves in their new careers, they have developed distinct and complementary skills - Jumoke in the kitchen, and Peter front of house in charge of the wine - that are a rock-solid foundation for this unique and very charming restaurant.

There is nothing about this Fish Shop that I can fault. Our bill for two tasting menus with matching wines came to €190. before service.

THE RATING

9/10 food

9/10 ambience

9/10 value for money

27/30

ON A BUDGET

The tasting menu costs €55. I suppose you could eat alone and have tap water to drink, but that would be a pity.

ON A BLOW-OUT

The tasting menu plus wine pairings for two will cost €190 before service.

THE HIGH POINT

There is an unassuming confidence and elegant simplicity to Fish Shop that's very endearing. And the food is way beyond the standard of what one might expect of a largely self-taught cook. It's clear that the priorities are freshness and flavour rather than keeping up with trends.

THE LOW POINT

Hard to think of one.

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