The Cliff Townhouse
22 St Stephen’s Green
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 638 3939

Irish Daily Mail
17 September 2016

My eighteen year-old godson has a remarkable appreciation of good food despite – or perhaps because of – his boarding school education. So when I was choosing somewhere in which we could celebrate the glad tidings of his having got in to Cambridge I wanted somewhere with good cooking, a bit of style and a real sense of being in Dublin.

In fact, I wanted somewhere overlooking St Stephen’s Green because it was –deep breath – his great-great-great-great uncle who donated it to the people of Dublin.

We could have gone to Restaurant No. 41 at Residence, of course. Generally, I need no second bidding to experience the exceptional cooking of Graham Neville there but the place itself is a bit cosy for what was a bright, airy, sunny day of late Summer.

And so it was that we ended up, without a booking, in one of the great dining rooms of Dublin, the sun streaming through the tall windows of the Cliff Townhouse as it’s called these days.

The restaurant was originally the Dublin outpost of Bentley’s, Richard Corrigan’s London establishment in which the first oyster was shucked at its marble bar in 1916. The Cliff Townhouse retains the Bentley’s look but Mr Corrigan long ago ceased to have any connection – except through the head chef here, Sean Smith, who was appointed by him.

Sean Smith continues the Bentley’s ethic which is, essentially, to serve exceptional seafood and keep it very simple. As formulae go, you can’t better it. Now, perhaps it’s because of what we ate, but I have a feeling that the Cliff Townhouse (which is under the same ownership as the Michelin-starred Cliff House in Ardmore, Co Waterford) has become even more Bentleyesque of late. And this is, in my book, a good thing.

The menu, on a big card, is not big on detail, largely because there’s no need for it. You get, as I say, exceptional seafood that has not been mucked about. And there are some old Bentley’s favourites there like the baby squid stuffed with chorizo which is one of my favourite things on the planet.

However, we decided to share the large seafood platter to see if, at €48, this might be the best value lunch in Dublin. I would have gone for the cold version but my godson preferred the hot one and I was treating him.

We ordered a bottle of dry Riesling, had an impromptu wine lesson (at his request, I stress) and waited for our platter.

Let’s run through it in no particular order.

There were four oysters Rockefeller: barely cooked and topped with that vivid green spinach-based topping, which is as they should be. I like my oysters raw so am perhaps not the best judge but I felt that there should have been a faint aniseed touch (the classic recipe involves pastis) and a little sharpness would not have gone amiss. Of course, I could always have squeezed on some lemon juice.

There was a generous portion of lobster, buttery, rich and perfectly cooked and some salty, smoky, grilled prawns which in themselves would have justified the finger bowls. Crab claws had that rare but distinctive texture that proclaims “I have not been near a freezer” and were pungent with crabbiness, parsley and garlic; I would have loved some brown meat but this is virtually impossible to find in Ireland.

Smoked salmon, the only cold element in this chorus line of the deep was good: firmly textured, lightly smoked and lightly salted but perhaps turning a little oily on exposure to its warmer companions.

Potted monkfish, in a little jar, was a highlight of a good selection of marine delicacies, its firmness almost prawn-like and the seasoning both delicate and effective. Another little jar of white crabmeat would have been much better had it been brown (I am now on a campaign!)

The biggest element in all of this, because they are cheap and bulky, was a large pot of mussels that had been cooked à la marinière and there’s nothing wrong with that. The mussels were plump and sweet, their cooking liquor delicious when soaked up with crusty bread and the supply seemed bottomless. We had to abandon them although they kept on giving.

Well, for €24 a head, this is certainly a serious contender for the best value lunch in Dublin. We were thoroughly well fed and along with a bottle of excellent dry Riesling from Alsace – a perfect match – and some mineral water we came out for under €100.