Reeling them in... Cavistons has beautiful fish, cooked simply
Cavistons, 58 Glasthule Rd, Sandycove, Co Dublin
Is there a more desirable village in Dublin than Sandycove/Glasthule? Local residents don't think so, and neither do the hoards of wannabes who jam its streets and car park on Saturdays.
At the heart of the village is Cavistons, the family-owned 'emporium' (you're allowed to use that word if you've been in business since the 1940s) that looks after the needs of the food-minded folk of SoCoDu. At Cavistons you'll find all those ingredients for the latest recipes from whichever TV chef has a new series, along with a fine selection of organic fruit and vegetables, cheese, game, and of course the range of fish that has underpinned its business from the outset.
Next door to the shop is the restaurant, which the family opened in 1996. There were plans to move this a few doors along the street into another premises but for whatever reason this hasn't happened yet, and so it remains in its tiny space, with nothing much to recommend it in terms of comfort or interior design, the tables packed too close together, certainly for the sharing of secrets and intimacies. Not that this appears to discourage anyone else from doing just that.
In any event, Cavistons is so popular, and its space so limited, that it operates a policy of three sittings each lunchtime. You can have a table at 12pm, 1.30pm, or 3pm, and you can have it for an hour and a half and no longer, except if you opt for the last sitting, about which there is more flexibility. This policy has been a source of irritation ever since it was introduced and, while I understand the need to turn tables and make the space pay, the prices are such that it feels wrong when one's time is up, the prospect of lingering over another bottle of wine scuppered. A larger premises with more tables would sort this out and there is, thankfully, an alternative to going straight home.
The big draw at Cavistons is the fish; it's the reason that its customers come back time after time. I have a friend who is planning her retirement around the need to live within walking distance so that she'll be able to have her lunch there every day. She reckons that the daily eating of fish cooked by someone else will ensure that she lives until 100.
Three of us booked in for the 1.30pm slot on a Saturday, and were allocated the window table that's the best in the house in terms of not being on top of any of the others. We started with a couple of portions of large char-grilled sardines with rock salt and lemon, on which the kitchen had already done all the hard work. So, no bones or heads or messy bits, just fat, super-fresh fish full of flavour, presented simply. Sautéed squid with garlic, parsley and olive oil was another winner, the squid tender and tasty, a generous serving with plenty of juices for mopping.
For mains, a tian of crab, chive and lime crème fraiche with toasted ciabatta intended as a starter, but sufficient for someone who wasn't very hungry, was a 'does what it says on the tin' kind of a dish and no worse for that: fresh, pretty to look at, made with good quality ingredients.
We may have ordered the pan-fried fillet of plaice principally because it came with lobster mayonnaise, but it wasn't a mistake. Plump fish, with a single langoustine on the side, cooked in butter, with a generous pot of the decadent mayo on the side for dipping. A luxurious dish for €19.
Our final main course was a special of halibut with a light, foamy, lemony sauce decorated with tiny decorative micro-sprouts; two generous pieces of fish, again cooked impeccably. A bowl of baby potatoes came with the main courses, as did an unremarkable mixed salad.
As you can see, there is nothing fashionable or cutting edge about the food at Cavistons, and you should not head here in search of the revolutionary or madly innovative. But if you are a lover of high quality fish prepared with skill, you will love it and may end up planning to move to the area.
By the time we had finished our main courses, our one-and-a-half hours were up, so we did not have dessert. We paid the bill and moved to one of the two outside tables to finish our wine in the autumn sunshine, while another party was shown to the window table. And then, because we were having too nice a time to call it quits, we repaired a couple of doors along to Gerard Maguire's civilised 64 Wine, which is another reason that Glasthule is such a popular village these days. It's a wine shop with a wine bar and café tucked away at the back. You can drop in for morning coffee, a lunchtime sandwich or an early evening glass of wine. On Friday and Saturday evenings there is quite a scene, and you'll see the local Brahmins in weekend-mode, shooting the breeze over good bottles of wine and boards of charcuterie and cheese. It's a convivial spot, and very handy for when your time slot runs out at Cavistons.
Lunch for three, including two bottles of Picpoul de Pinet, came to €144.45 before service.
On a budget
The set menu, available until 7pm, costs €19 for a starter and main course. You could have deep-fried mackerel with oatmeal crumb and rhubarb purée, followed by haddock with samphire and crayfish lemon butter.
On a blowout
Ted Brown's crab claws with garlic butter, followed by seared scallops with fresh turmeric, dill and coconut, plus a side, with cheese to finish would cost €100 for two before wine.
The high point
Beautiful fish, cooked simply.
The low point
The rigid sittings policy means you only get the table for an hour-and-a-half.
7/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Fresh from the success of his beef dripping at the Great Taste Awards in London, where the product was named Supreme Champion, Clonmel butcher Pat Whelan has launched a heritage cure ham just in time for Christmas. Whelan comes from a long line of butchers, on both his mother's and father's sides, and the recipe for the cure came from his late grandfather's recently discovered diary. The meat is juicy, and the flavour is distinctive, with pronounced smoked hickory notes. Available both on and off the bone with nationwide delivery. jameswhelanbutchers.com