5A Crown Alley
Irish Daily Mail
12 September 2015
You wait for ages for a new seafood restaurant to come along and then they all happen at once, what with the Fish Shop on Queen Street, Quinlan’s in Cork, Fish Shack Café in Sandycove and now Klaw in Temple Bar.
Mind you, I use the word “restaurant” rather loosely here. Klaw is not a restaurant in the sense that most people understand; but more of that anon.
There was a time when the only seafood restaurant in Dublin was The Lord Edward up by Christchurch Cathedral (and, indeed, perched above the premises of the Dublin’s most venerable fish and chip shop, Leo Burdock’s). As far as I can gather, it opened in 1969, possibly to attract the custom left by the disappearance of the Red Bank on D’Olier Street.
I was tempted to go back for a prawn cocktail and a sole on the bone – I remember it as that kind of place – but when I looked at the website I saw that they use Bailey’s in one of the fish dishes. Well, you can imagine.
The days when most Irish people saw fish as a penance confined to Fridays are long gone but I have a feeling there’s a kind of penitential hangover that persists. We have the best seafood in the world, thanks to our cold and largely clean seas, but we are not a nation of food lovers. I mean, much of the fish that we eat, grudgingly and often at hotel wedding receptions, is intensively farmed salmon, an abomination both in terms of taste and the environment. It’s also a fine example of shameful waste when you consider the many kilos of other fish that are caught and ground up to produce one kilo of farmed salmon.
We have the greatest native oysters in the world – well, us and the English, to be fair – and yet these glorious delicacies are strangers to most Irish citizens.
Well, it’s good to see Peter Caviston of the eponymous restaurant and fish shop in Glasthule, marking the opening of native season in proper style and it’s encouraging that Klaw are offering natives and Pacifics in their Temple Bar… er… establishment.
Klaw is not so much a restaurant as a corridor in which oysters, crab, prawns and Irish lobster (as against Canadian) are served in various very simple ways. The simplicity is down to the fact that the place is too small and too narrow to do much in the way of cooking.
I suspect that about a dozen people could eat here simultaneously but they would probably need to know each other fairly well.
I can report that a dozen oysters, half native (in two sizes) and half Pacifics, were impeccable and served nicely cold on a generous bed of ice. We seasoned them with the merest squeeze of lemon juice and let them slip down with a glass of white wine, as you do.
Toasts topped with crab were delightfully unusual. You see, it’s almost impossible to get brown crab meat in an Irish restaurant and I’m told this is because Irish people find anything other than the snow white claw meat rather too strong. In fact, it’s far superior. In London’s St John Restaurant you can get a big slice of sourdough toast liberally spread with brown crab meat as a starter. And what a starter it is.
At Klaw, they rather bravely spread the toast with some brown meat and then top it with plenty of white. It gives a real depth of flavour – saline, marine, mineral – to this amazingly simple little dish. And it is, in its own way, missionary work.
A shared lobster roll was fine but a reminder that lobster rolls are a waste of lobster. It’s a way of making this very expensive crustacean go further so it’s no surprise that it tends to be bready and mayonaissey and just somewhat lobsterous. I’ve had much worse, though.
We finished, perversely perhaps, with small portions of chowderish fish soup which was chunky, savoury and very pleasant, the kind of thing that would take the chill out of a damp Autumn evening.
The bill just broached €100, neither cheap, nor very dear.
All in all, we had a pleasant time. The combat between Klaw’s own sound system and the buskers outside was, at times, pretty deafening but, oddly enough, it was always possible to have a conversation without yelling.