Lobstar, 101 Monkstown Road, Monkstown, Co Dublin, (01) 537 3323
When you live in Monkstown, as I did until last year, you grow accustomed to people who don't live in Monkstown telling you how lucky you are to be surrounded by so many great restaurants. The Crescent, it is true, is home to a large number of places to eat, but when I say that we moved into the city centre in order to be within walking distance of good food, I'm only half-joking. Soon after we left the area, as luck would have it, I started hearing good things about a new restaurant, Lobstar, which had opened on the opposite side of the village to The Crescent - a couple of doors along from Goggins' pub in one direction and That's Amore, an Italian restaurant with a devoted local following, in the other.
The owners of this latest addition to the Monkstown eating options are a young Hungarian couple, Veronika and Zsolt Zakar. She looks after front of house; he's in the kitchen.
The room is small and stylish, with subway tiles on the walls and a large lobster motif on one wall. It's a space that has seen a number of restaurant incarnations over the years and was most recently home to a deli run by Johnny Cooke.
The menu is commendably short, with just a handful of choices for each course.
I was definitely going to have the butter-poached razor clams with mango, courgette, sea-trout roe and shallot as soon as I spotted them on the menu but, sadly for me, the last portion had been snaffled by a selfish customer just moments before we arrived. Instead, I chose half a dozen Carlingford oysters, served with a garnish of Granny Smith apple, celery, coriander cress and cucumber.
Now that I'm an expert in the finer points of oyster shucking, having earlier this year spent an educational 10 days in China at the first International ShuckFest held in Shanghai, Beijing and Fuzhou - an event which featured champion oyster shuckers from around the world (including Michael Moran and Stephen Nolan from Ireland) opening Harty's oysters from Dungarvan on top of the Great Wall - I can confirm that the oysters at Lobstar had been expertly shucked. There were no nicks in the belly, no grit in the shell, and the adductor muscle was severed cleanly. As well as looking good, the oysters tasted pretty fine, although I'd have preferred a smidgen more citrus in the dressing, which had good crunch and texture.
Poké is all the rage these days, and at Lobstar the ahi tuna poké is a substantial portion of raw fish dressed with sesame oil, chilli, soy and spring onion. The fish is super fresh and of good quality, and the dressing simple and full of flavour without being overpowering. In another restaurant, this would have been a main course rather than a starter.
You can't go to a restaurant called Lobstar and not order the signature dish, and we didn't. The whole split Irish lobster comes with a choice of sauce (we opted for Béarnaise), a vibrant salad of fennel and mango, and a choice of potato. I know we're all supposed to be sniffy about truffle oil these days but I can't resist the whiff of the tuber, so we had the truffle and Parmesan fries and very good they were too. The lobster wasn't huge but it was sweet and delicious, and not remotely dry. Overcooking is the enemy of these beasts but they are in safe hands in the kitchen at Lobstar.
Our second main was the lobster ravioli, as recommended by Veronika. This is a luscious dish, featuring lobster bisque, sweetcorn and fennel pollen and a generous amount of lobster meat in open ravioli. I try not to use the word 'unctuous' in reviews (it's one of the ones that appears on the banned list that they hand out at reviewer school, along with 'nom nom') but in this case it's justified. What a fantastic, and fantastically rich, dish. If you go to Lobstar, you have to eat this - in a starter-size portion if you must.
The only slight disappointment food-wise was the dessert: chocolate mousse that lacked oomph, presented on a flat plate decorated with crumbs of chocolate cake and a sea salt powder, with raspberries, a raspberry coulis and a purée of mango and basil. There were just too many things going on.
The presentation of the cheese was over-busy too - featuring strawberries, grapes, redcurrants, blackberries, toasted hazelnuts and bread, all dusted with what I think was a pistachio crumb. The cheese itself was in good condition, good enough not to need the accompanying faff.
We drank a bottle of Gavi and sparkling water and the bill came to €135.60 before service. Lobster is never going to be cheap, but I like the democratisation of the crustacean that's happening in places such as Lobstar, Klaw and Michael's of Mount Merrion, which is giving more people the opportunity to enjoy one of the most glorious foods in existence.
I see from the Lobstar website that the restaurant serves brunch at the weekends and on bank holidays, which means that you have three imminent opportunities to follow a bracing walk on Dún Laoghaire's West Pier with Lobstar Benedict - butter- poached lobster, poached eggs and sauce Bearnaise on chargrilled brioche. Which sounds like an excellent idea.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
There's an early-bird deal priced at €23 for two courses and €27 for three. Among the dishes included are the tuna poké and a New York-style lobster roll.
ON A BLOW-OUT
Pan-fried scallops with cauliflower, vanilla, black pudding, romanesco and hazelnut, followed by a whole split lobster apiece and chocolate mousse would cost €108.40 before drinks.
THE HIGH POINT
Monkstown finally has a decent restaurant.
THE LOW POINT
The chocolate mousse underwhelmed.