Review - Klaw: 'The gambas doused in a harissa and sumac butter are spectacular'
Klaw The Seafood Café, 11 Sprangers Yard, Fownes Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2. (01) 515-3717
First things first, I make no apology for reviewing another one of Niall Sabongi's Klaw restaurants so shortly after the review of Klaw Poké on Capel Street, which appeared last autumn. Why? Because Sabongi is the real deal when it comes to seafood in Ireland, and while each one of his places has a different focus, the thing that they have in common is that they are wholly unpretentious and committed to what I like to call the democratisation of fish and seafood. This is A Good Thing.
We've been to see The Florida Project in the Irish Film Institute and we've emerged hungry, thanks to the 'no popcorn' policy, with which some of us are unimpressed. So we're on the hunt for food, and we want it quickly.
The Seafood Café opened a couple of months ago, and on the night of our visit it's about half-full; the other customers are tourists, as you'd expect in this part of town. The menu is uncompromisingly - the clue is in the name - dedicated to fish and seafood, and it changes according to what's in and out of season.
To kick off, we share a selection of 'snax' for €18: East Coast crab on toast, Salt Cod Croquettes and the intriguingly-titled, When I Was Six. Each is a tantalising portion, which is just what a snack should be, enough for us all to have a mouthful or two. The crab is a mix of brown and white meat, rich and flavoursome, the croquettes three little spheres of salty comfort topped with what I think is a yuzu mayonnaise, and three skewered prawns (no, I don't understand the name of the dish either, because it doesn't appear to have anything to do with AA Milne) marinated in something a little citrus-y and spicy and a lot delicious.
We progress to an excellent cod ceviche (the fish changes daily, but is always wild - one of my daughters went back a few days later and had the hake version, which she said was not as good, probably because the texture of hake is not as firm as cod), and some fried sprats on buttered toast, which are too salty for me but the others like a lot.
For mains, there's no persuading my family away from the fish and chips that they've spotted being delivered to another table, so it's four orders of those and one of grilled giant gambas for me. The hake and chips are superb, the portions generous, the batter super-crisp, the chips hand-cut and the tartare sauce nicely piquant. The gambas are spectacular, doused in a harissa and sumac butter that's wipe-the-plate good and, again, there's no stinginess in terms of the number on the plate, which is proper order as the price is €34.
Desserts are a mixed bag. The Irish whiskey plums (Klaw's twist on the red wine prunes at Etto?) are a dull business, and the lemon tart is nicely sharp but let down by heavy pastry. The warm chocolate fondant, however, is fabulous.
The Seafood Café was in the news a couple of weeks ago, when a customer complained on TripAdvisor about the price charged for a small portion of lobster, which is clearly stated as €10 per 100g on the menu. I called Niall Sabongi to ask him about the economics of lobster, and his explanation was so comprehensive that I thought it worth sharing, even though we didn't eat lobster when we visited.
"All our lobster is Irish, and we buy directly from the fishermen off the boats. We only deal with those fishing sustainably. At this time of year it's mainly caught off Lambay and landed in Loughshinny, but some comes from Dun Laoghaire. The price is determined by the European market, because 'vivier' trucks from France (they have tanks at the back to keep the lobsters alive) pull up at the docks in Ireland and the drivers have rolls of cash, so we are competing with them. At this time of year the price is at its highest, wholesalers are paying around €35 per kilo for lobster and the lobsters are small; they average around 550g and they would contain approximately 90-120g of meat. At other times of year the meat content might be higher. You need to know how to eat a lobster, how to extract the meat from the legs. In Ireland people tend not to eat the green-ish tomalley, the liver, which to me is the very essence of lobster; in Asia and America it's prized; the tail is effectively a big prawn. We encourage people to dip their chips in it. In the summer the lobsters are bigger and the price goes down, because there's a more plentiful supply when they are out scratching around looking to mate."
The lesson is that, if you want to indulge in the fantasy lobster dining scenario that we all know from the movies, the time to do it is in August when the price of lobster in Klaw can drop to as low as €5 per 100g, half what it is in the depths of winter.
The bill for five, including a bottle (€32) and two glasses of picpoul, to my mind the default seafood wine, an IPA and a couple of soft drinks came to €221 before service. I'm planning to return to Spranger's Yard in the summer when I'll have my bib at the ready and will be tucking into the cartoon-sized lobster of my dreams. In the meantime, I'll be back for all manner of fishy deliciousness.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Smoked pollock and cockle chowder with a cheddar cheese scone will set you back €8.50.
ON A BLOW OUT
A dozen oysters and a one kilo lobster apiece would set you back €252 before drinks, and another €8 if you want fries and salad.
THE HIGH POINT
The latest addition to Niall Sabongi's mini-empire consolidates the restaurateur's reputation as one of the best - if not the best - purveyors of seafood in the capital.
THE LOW POINT
On a bitterly cold winter evening, the restaurant didn't feel cosy enough.