Feeling the call of supreme seafood, the critic headed to the Mount Merrion hotspot
If ever anyone put their stamp on a place, it is Gareth Smith with his Michael’s Mount Merrion in Dublin. Michael’s had been a nice, if somewhat innocuous, neo-Italian neighbourhood restaurant, servicing the discreetly affluent houses on the tree-lined roads of this SoCoDu genteel suburb before the ebullient ‘Gaz’ came riding up the hill and turned it into one of Dublin’s hotspots.
Gaz reminds me of those actors who become ‘overnight sensations’ after slogging away quietly for 20 years. He’d been in Restaurant 1014 in Clontarf before it closed during the recession. Then, he took off to Vienna to work in an Irish gastropub. Eventually coming home to Ireland, he took over Michael’s and through dint of hard work, personality, and social media, built a strong business and, with a great loyal team behind him, went on to open a second restaurant, Little Mike’s, a few doors away.
Gaz was made for social media, and vice versa. He rants, taunts and teases his legion of followers with biting humour and fab seafood posts from the quaysides of Skerries and Howth. In general, he has everyone eating out of his hand. He is one of the great personalities of the restaurant industry, with an extraordinary ability, sharp wit, and, behind it, a heart of gold.
He was busily working away during the lockdowns with various ideas, one being his alliance with Rick Higgins, a well-known butcher in Sutton, from whom he sources his great beef. He now sells his sauces, ready-to-cook dishes, and wine in Higgins Family Butcher. Now the duo have produced a self-funded cookery book, And For Mains... that is bursting with food, fun and stories. Gaz took to Twitter, and within the first 48 hours, he pre-sold 1,500 copies. It’s available in the restaurants at €40 and online, see andformains.ie.
I never seem to have time for weekday lunches so the thought of Gaz’s legendary seafood platters and a relaxing catch-up over a glass of wine with some friends on a Saturday afternoon was irresistible. We stayed out on the terrace, which probably proved the best thing for our noisy chatter and laughter.
There’s so much great seafood to tantalise you here, along with some fabulous meaty dishes as well. Braised octopus comes with chickpeas and smoked paprika, while Connemara clams are served in Pedro Ximénez sherry. There are boquerones and pickled cockles, Iberico hams, and surf and turf galore. Resisting crispy fried pigs’ ears, we started with fried crispy Brie with Howth honey and roast hazelnuts (€9) for Diarmuid, while Paula had a smart circular presentation of fresh Lambay Island crab on organic leaves and avocado, set off by a sweet cucumber ruffle (€14). Steve’s Lambay crab and ham arancini (€10) were delicious crispy balls of the Italian stalwart, set in a bowl with mussels in a chilli-spiked lemon cream; while I had Navajas razor clams a la plancha, chopped in their shells with garlic and jamón (€10.50).
And for mains, Paula adored her lavish luxury seafood bowl (€29.90). It was a fine tranche of perfectly seared halibut perched on lobster fishcakes, Lambay crab, and Clogherhead prawns and mussels in a light lobster cream. It was jolly good value too, as were the Skerries-caught black sole on the bone (€29.90 each), for Steve and me, both of which came with lobster fishcakes, tenderstem broccoli and a lemon and caper butter. The fourth main was crisply roasted Iberico suckling pig cochinillo, served with Ballymakenny Farm Mayan Gold roast potatoes (€27).
To finish, we shared a glass of luscious home-made tiramisu (€7.50) and a warm sticky toffee pudding (€7.50) with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice-cream, which, the menu assures the diner — in true Gaz style — are ‘calorie free (kinda)’.
We laughed non-stop as we ate and enjoyed a bottle of Altos de Torona Albariño Rias Baixas (€35), plus a bottle of Fritz Muller Zero Alcohol frizzante (€23), a delicious alternative for the upcoming festive season.
I must do more Saturday lunches — they’re just so civilised.
57 Deerpark Road,
Tel: (01) 278-0377,