Restaurant Review: 'I think I am in food heaven with this no-choice, four-course menu'
6 Queen Street, Dublin 7
A friend sent me a link to an article that appeared in an American newspaper. The writer was a jaded restaurant critic who had decided to hang up his eating boots, bored by the same-old, same-old offering he encountered wherever he went. Not that anybody lucky enough to have a job like mine should complain, but the article struck a chord. The more restaurants that I eat in, the less I enjoy complicated food that fails to prioritise flavour, and the less patience I have for kitchens that cut corners when it comes to provenance. Tell me where your ingredients come from, please, and then I'll decide whether I want to eat your food.
Perhaps it's an age thing, this craving for honesty and simplicity that grows stronger each year, along with the sense of giddy anticipation as each season comes around, bringing with it the promise of specific bounty. The seasons are out of kilter these days, as any farmer will tell you, but the arrival of each does still herald something new and delicious. Right around now the first of the Irish asparagus is appearing - make the most of it because the season is tantalisingly short - and when the weather grows warmer there will be strawberries and tomatoes, peas and beans.
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One of the crops that has gladdened my heart over the last couple of months has been the purple sprouting broccoli that I've been buying from the McNally family's market stalls. It's a regular at my table. And it's here again at Fish Shop too, part of a turbot dish that is so disarmingly simple, yet wholly grown-up and delicious, that I think I am in food heaven. The stalks are leggy, tender, the finest of them all, the ones that only the very earliest of birds at the market - and the restaurants that are the McNallys' loyal customers - will nab. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
As our reservation at Fish Shop Queen Street isn't until 9.30pm, we arrange to meet our friends around the corner at Fish Shop Benburb Street, its more casual, no-booking sibling. The plan is to have a bottle of wine and a couple of snacks there before dinner, but things falls asunder because Benburb Street is busy and the experience is less charming than when I visited as part of a press group a couple of weeks before. Timing is everything.
Fish Shop started out as a fish and chip shack in Blackrock Market, established by wife and husband team Jumoke Akintola and Peter Hogan. (She's the chef, he's front of house.) It moved to Queen Street a few years ago, and has gradually refined its offering there to such an extent that it now just opens for dinner a few nights each week, serving a no-choice, four-course menu.
By way of snacks there's pickled gurnard with cucumber and crème fraîche, a salt pollock salad with organic carrots, fennel and pea shoots, and - the best of the lot - turbot trimmings deep-fried in delectable batter with a perfect tartare sauce. Fish without the chips, if you like.
The first course is a delicate broth of razor clams with Savoy cabbage and wild garlic, spring in a bowl. The clams come from Loughshinny, Peter tells us, where they grow stronger and more flavoursome than they do at Killary Fjord in Connemara. That's the kind of knowledge that becomes part of a restaurant's fabric when it decides to do just one thing - wild, Irish fish - and do it very well.
Next comes a tranche of turbot, with a classic beurre blanc, those elegant stalks of broccoli and a bowl of steamed, floury Carolus potatoes, the perfect vehicle for the serious task of wiping up every last drop of that buttery sauce. To finish, roasted rhubarb with a scoop of buttermilk ice-cream and a warm, meltingly delicious brown butter financier. And, because we don't want this lovely evening to end, some Killeen goat's cheese.
We drink a bottle of Albamar Albarino 2016 and one of SP68 Nero d'Avolo 2015 from Arianna Occhipinti, and the bill for four comes to €300 before service.
ON A BUDGET
The set dinner menu at Fish Shop on Queen Street is €45, but around the corner at Fish Shop on Benburb Street, fish and chips with a glass of wine will cost less than €25.
ON A BLOW OUT
Dinner is €45. After that it's down to the wine.
THE HIGH POINT
Fish Shop has the sophistication and confidence to prepare impeccable ingredients very simply.
THE LOW POINT
You need to like fish.