Review: Sole - 'The restaurant feels immediately glossy and international'
Sole, 18/19 South William Street, Dublin 2. (01) 544 2300, sole.ie
'The menu and the décor may not be quite as sophisticated as Scott's," says my dinner companion, "but the staff certainly are." He's talking about a London mainly-seafood restaurant (famously the one in Mayfair outside which Nigella Lawson and her then-husband, Charles Saatchi, were papped during a public altercation), where we have eaten a few times. Sole, open just over a month on South William Street in the heart of Dublin restaurant-land, and which is co-owned with Fire on Dawson Street, reminds us a little of Scott's in its scale and ambition.
We have just cleverly and charmingly been up-sold a dirty oyster Martini that's not even on the menu; described so vividly that we just have to order it, even though we've already had a G&T. The house gin at Sole is An Dulaman from Carrick in Co Donegal, and it's infused with botanicals and five different types of locally harvested seaweed. (You can buy it at Celtic Whiskey on Dawson Street.) The way Alex tells it, the gin makes for a fantastic dirty Martini using the juices from a Carlingford oyster and an off-dry vermouth, with an oyster instead of an olive by way of garnish. He's right. It's fabulous.
As the name suggests, the focus at Sole is on fish and seafood and the restaurant feels immediately glossy and international, the kind of place you could imagine walking into in any city in the world, from Dubai to Marbella to Moscow. In fact, it feels as if it might be a franchise or part of a high-end chain, but isn't.
It's a Wednesday evening and we have booked just a couple of hours ahead; the restaurant is about half-full and stays that way - there's a pleasant buzz. There is no pre-theatre offer, and Sole is clearly not after the post-work early-bird crowd on a budget; our fellow diners are a mix of families that look as if they may be celebrating confirmations, all-male corporate tables, couples, and a group of well-groomed middle-aged women, which proves that it may actually be possible to be all things to all people, after all.
For an island nation, we're not great fish-eaters (there are many theories about why this might be, and the Catholic Church is implicated in several), so much of our best seafood is exported, with a total value placed on exports of €666 million according to Bord Iascaigh Mhara's 'The Business of Seafood Report' 2017. People such as Niall Sabongi (of the Klaw restaurants), Gareth Smith (of Michael's, reviewed here recently) and Stephane Griesbach (of Gannet Fishmongers in Galway) are amongst those on a mission to improve our relationship with the fish that swim in the waters that surround us.
So, although there is plenty of Irish fish and seafood on the menu at Sole, I am disappointed to see Norwegian King Crab and warm water prawns there too. I don't see why this should be the case when there is plenty of delicious Irish brown crab available; ditto prawns. Our lovely waitress explains that the kitchen wanted to be able to offer something different to what's available in other restaurants in the city, which is something that I can understand yet not agree with. (The same goes for restaurants selling beef from the US and Australia. Why would you do that when Ireland has the best beef in the world?)
We start with Oysters Rockefeller, six rock oysters on a bed of wilted spinach topped with hollandaise sauce, and a prawn cocktail. Two delightfully retro dishes, beautifully styled and executed. I think that the locally caught Dublin Bay prawns - nephrops norvegicus, or langoustines, which confusingly don't necessarily come from Dublin Bay - that I buy from Connolly's in Rathmines have more flavour than these warm water prawns (typically farmed in countries such as India, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Equador and Honduras), but I'm not sure that my inherent prejudice would stand up to a blind taste test.
For mains, a perfectly cooked and generously sized sole meunière, is filleted at the table, served with lemon butter. Simple, just as it should be. A portion of the Norwegian King Crab claws - 300g for €65 - is made up of just two huge legs. The shell is pliable, unlike the native brown crabs that we are used to here, and the kitchen has lacerated the underside of the legs to make it easier to extract the meat. There's a fair amount of it, and there's good flavour (a hint of barbecue?) and texture, but it lacks richness; the lemon beurre blanc is luscious. Neither the chips nor the herbed baby potatoes are up to much, but the creamed spinach is unctuously good.
We try a couple of mouthfuls of a frozen strawberry soufflé that's sweet and pink and doesn't have much to say for itself, before abandoning it in favour of a Brandy Alexander and an Espresso Martini, both excellent. (Sole is very good at cocktails.) The bill comes to €287 for two, including water, cocktails and a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from Wachau.
7/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
Sole is not somewhere to go for a cheap night out, but the fish and chips is €19.50.
ON A BLOW OUT
The sky's the limit when it comes to lobster, which is 'market' priced. Ordering from the à la carte menu, the Norwegian King Crab Salad, Captain's Seafood Tower and dessert for two will cost €163 before drinks or service.
THE HIGH POINT
Brilliant service from a well trained team.
THE LOW POINT
Although Sole does use Irish fish and shellfish, I'd prefer to see the restaurant sourcing solely (sorry) from Ireland.