Review - Klaw Poké: 'A new-to-us combination of ingredients that really sings'
Klaw Poké, 159 Capel Street, Dublin 1 (01) 556 0117
Niall Sabongi - the man behind Klaw - is on a mission to bring crab-shack culture to Ireland and, for that alone, he's to be thanked and supported. (He's also just opened a fish shop, The Urban Monger, on Dublin's George's Street - more good news.)
How many of us spend our summer holidays abroad gorging on fresh fish and seafood, only to come home and realise that there are few places to do the same in Ireland, despite the fact that we are an island surrounded by some of the best fishing waters in the world? As a nation, we need to get over ourselves, dispense with the notion that casual seafood eating is inextricably linked with sunshine, and embrace the fine fish and shellfish that's available on our doorstep.
The original Klaw in Dublin's Temple Bar, tucked away on Crow Street behind the former Central Bank building, is a little gem serving oysters, crab and lobster rolls, with a few stools at a counter. Earlier this year, Sabongi opened Klaw Poké on Capel Street, which has become one of the most vibrant food streets in the capital, with a whole slew of Asian restaurants.
On the same stretch as Klaw Poké, the Camerino Bakery is a delight, as are Brother Hubbard and its diminutive sibling, Little Brother. Brother Hubbard is soon to move into the much larger corner building that was briefly home to British TV chef Gary Rhodes when he had an Irish outpost, which has lain empty for many years.
We know that Klaw Poké is a busy spot, and that it doesn't take bookings, so we turn up enthusiastically early for lunch just after noon. We're the first customers and we're seated at one of the tall tables with stools. There's one large communal table at the front, and the windows are open onto the street in a way that feels distinctively un-Irish. It's one of those bright autumn days when the sky is blue but there's a nip in the air and no one knows what to wear. Outside, there are people in shorts and T-shirts, and others in winter coats, hats and scarves.
There are four of us, affording the opportunity to order comprehensively across the menu. (You might think that greedy, but I couldn't possibly comment.)
We start with a dozen oysters - six naked natives, two apiece from Harty's in Dungarvan, Kelly's in Galway and Dooncastle in Connemara, and a few of the 'dressed' and 'torched' options. We're familiar with the Harty's and Kelly's oysters, both excellent, but Dooncastle is a new one on us. Because there used to be sugar beet growing on the hills behind the oyster beds - explains the affable young man looking after us, who appears to be part-chef, part-server -the oysters have a distinctive natural sweetness. Most of John Ward's Dooncastle oysters are exported to France, he tells us, but you'll also find them on the menu at JP McMahon's Aniar and Tartare in Galway.
The dressed oysters come with house-made kimchi or a nam jim dressing. The kimchi is on the meeker end of the spectrum, user-friendly and not as funky as some, but vibrant and delicious, The nam jim - basically a Thai dipping sauce - could do with more of a kick. The torched oysters (our new friend tells us that the torching is his favourite part of the job) feature samphire, cheese sauce and lots of garlic, and they're a burnt, umami-rich delight.
We order two of the signature Poké bowls, which are a Hawaiian specialty. The Ahi is made with tuna dressed in ponzu, marinated cucumber, edamame beans, wakame seaweed, pickled ginger and brown rice; the Octo, with rice noodles, leaves, grilled octopus, nam jim, radish, macadamia nut, samphire, chilli and salty pineapple.
The Ahi is pretty virtuous, and ever so slightly dull, which could be exactly what's needed in certain circumstances, but the Octo is joyous, with a new-to-us combination of ingredients that sings.
Chowder is hearty and herby, and the crab on toast - three small rounds - comes as a layer of brown meat topped with white, which, on advice, we sprinkle with American Old Bay seasoning.
The lobster roll on brioche is modestly sized, but the bread has been on the wood grill and has great flavour. I think it's expensive at €15, given the amount of lobster, but my lunch companions think otherwise. It comes with a few nacho chips and a huge cucumber pickle. A blue and white Falcon enamel dish of mac'n'cheese costs €6, but when you add lobster - in a quantity that I consider to be stingy - the price goes up by €9.50. Not to €9.50, by €9.50. To €15.50.
"You're on a hiding to nothing when you're selling lobster," says one of my guests, wisely. "It's expensive, and people are never going to get as much of it as they want."
He's right of course, but I'm struggling. I think that I'd prefer higher prices and more generosity. But maybe I need to get over myself. The bill for lunch for four, with a couple of soft drinks and no wine (there is a short list), comes to €105.50 before service.
7/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The Octo Poké bowl is priced at €9.50. That's a tasty, filling lunch that will leave you feeling virtuous and full of vim and vigour for the afternoon.
ON A BLOW-OUT
The SFA Tower - a seafood extravaganza - costs €120.
THE HIGH POINT
There's a good atmosphere at Klaw Poké, and some pretty tasty dishes. The seafood is super-fresh, and the offering is something different and distinctive for Dublin.
THE LOW POINT
The lobster premium feels hefty - €9.50 to add a small quantity to the mac 'n' cheese is too much.