A magnificent meal of fresh fish and winning wines at Mamó garners almost full marks
Baby Lily approves of the Lough Neagh tartlet with lemon ricotta and broad beans, as well she might. (Is there a little hint of the sadly underused tarragon in there too? I think so.) The dinky little tartlets — of which there are three — are from the ‘Grazing’ section of the menu at Mamó, and squishing one through her chubby little fingers on the way to her mouth only adds to Lily’s pleasure.
Lily is keen on the melting croquettes with Cinco Jotas jamón and tarragon aioli too — really, what’s not to like? — and then she tries the signature ‘Cod Chip’. A whisper of rosemary runs through the confit potato, its crunchy exterior topped with taramasalata. Initially she’s not too sure about the cod roe (the chip is, unsurprisingly, an instant hit) but comes around after a second taste. Good girl, Lily. You’ll go far.
It’s a sunny day in high summer, and the two car-parking spaces outside Mamó have morphed into a stylish, airy terrace with a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea. It’s a day for rosé, no doubt about it, and so we start with a glass of the fruity Mora e Memo from Sardinia.
The last time I ate here was on a chilly November day soon after husband-and-wife team Killian Durkin and Jess D’Arcy first opened, and although I’ve enjoyed Mamó’s picnics and meal kits during lockdown, there is nothing like being back here in person.
After our snacks, we share a ceviche of wild gurnard, landed that morning by one of the boats we can see tied up in the harbour across the road. A woman at another table turns up her nose at the unfamiliar fish, but she’s wrong. Gurnard may be no beauty, but it’s wild and native to Irish waters and is one of the fish we should be eating more of, rather than always sticking to salmon and hake. The firm, white flesh is bright with the flavours of soy, orange and coriander, the juices too good not to spoon up when the fish is all eaten.
And then there is wild turbot for two, a huge tranche from the thickest part of the fish. It arrives at the table on the bone, topped with tiny brown shrimp and capers in butter, with an offer to take it off the bone if we would like. We would, because we know that Killian will make a far better fist of it than we will, even with Lily’s help.
The meaty fish is super-fresh, the chunks of crisp rosemary and garlic potatoes with squishy cloves of garlic unmissable, and chargrilled broccoli with smoked yoghurt and spiced almonds crunchy and flavoursome. It’s a brilliant plate of food.
A chilled bottle of Azores Wine Company Tinto Vulcânico 2019 — a blend of Castelão, Syrah and Touriga Nacional that somehow manages to taste like a fine Burgundy — is a revelation.
Pudding is a summery mille feuille of strawberries and cream, technical and precise, wholly delicious, with a glass of the sparkling Fabien Jouves Somnam’Bulles Malbec/Muscat blend from Cahors. Jess tells us one of the things that the chefs missed most when the restaurant was closed was making chilled desserts, because they don’t travel; this one is a beauty.
We finish with Rockfield sheep’s milk cheese from Aisling and Michael Flanagan in Co Mayo, who also produce the wonderful Velvet Cloud yoghurt. The seasonal cheese is nutty and robust, the poached pears and nigella-seed crackers alongside just right.
Killian Durkin’s food has only become more assured in the nearly two years since I first visited Mamó, and ours is a faultless meal. Jess’s wine list is serious without being frighteningly expensive, good reason in and of itself to visit. The list changes according to mood and weather, and features plenty of bottles that you won’t find in other restaurants. Interestingly, Jess says she sees things moving away from the all-natural lists that have become de rigueur in trendy restaurants over the past few years — a touch of the emperor’s new clothes.
Lily’s mum worked in the wine industry for years and knows her stuff; she says Mamó is one of the only restaurants in the city where she’d be happy to put the wine selection in Jess’s hands.
Our bill including one bottle and four glasses of wine — it was a long lunch — comes to €225.50, and Lily tells us she’d like to go back again very soon.
Mushroom tortelli followed by dessert costs €30pp.
€150 for two before wine or service.
Mamó, Harbour Road, Howth, Co Dublin. mamorestaurant.ie