The Fish & Chip Shop
76 Benburb Street
Phone: 01 557 1473
Irish Daily Mail
13 August 2016
Overlooked or overcooked. That tends to be the way with fish in Ireland and I blame the Church. Well, at least it makes a change from the usual clerical blame game.
I should declare here that I’m a borderline agnostic Anglican with Quaker sympathies (and simply far too selfish to live up to the ideals of the Society of Friends), so the Catholic church shouldn’t take this very personally.
You see the Spanish love fish while we Irish, by and large, hate the stuff. Two very Catholic countries, two totally different attitudes to the fruits of the deep. And, if anything, Ireland has been the more Catholic of the two; indeed in the 1950s it was called the most Catholic country in the world.
But what has the Vatican ever done for us? It has been quite stingy with the Cardinals’ hats, always sided with the larger island when we got stroppy and insisted on us abstaining from meat on Fridays until some time, I think, in the 1960s. Or even 1970s.
By stark contrast, the Spanish got off Scot free and Fridays were like any other day of the week because the Spanish king had had the foresight to side with Pope at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, helping the Christian alliance knock the stuffing out of the Ottomans.
No doubt there were a few gallant Irish naval chaps involved in this famous engagement but we were still expected to do the fish on Friday thing.
Thankfully, a couple of generations have grown up without an innate suspicion of fish at this stage and we are starting to have a homegrown audience for what is arguably the best seafood in the world.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the brilliant simplicity of the set menu at Jumoke Akintola’s and Peter Hogan’s The Fish Shop on Queen Street. The sense of déjà vu here is explained by this week’s review being of their fish and chip shop round the corner on Benburb Street.
I have a feeling that this is a world first: exquisite fish and chips, no choice, a cracking, outstanding selection of wines, a simple bar and a few stools. Does this kind of thing exist anywhere else? Maybe those lucky Spaniards might have something approaching it, but with a chauvinistic selection of wines. No, I think this is a world first.
The great Michael Broadbent, the most experienced taster of old and fine wines in the world, once told me that he and his wife Daphne liked nothing better than having fish and chips out of newspaper with a few copitas of Tio Pepe, the bone dry fino sherry.
Here you can see why and, I’ll wager, the fish and chips are from a different solar system from the ones out of Mr Broadbent’s local.
We went mad and started with a glass each of what is possibly the best fino sherry in the world, costing the equivalent of a whole bottle of average house wine but really worth every cent. This was by way of preparing the palate for astonishingly fresh haddock in impeccably crisp batter. Needless to say the chips, stout, substantial things, had been carefully planned: the right variety of spud, the right temperature and, I’m guessing, double-cooking. Perfect.
Add to that proper tartare sauce, made in house, as a reminder that this condiment is much, much better than the stuff that comes in jars (which tends to look as if the cat has done something unpleasant).
Was there a fly in the ointment? Well, yes, a small but significant one that wouldn’t bother everyone but it sure rankled with me.
The fish and chips includes an excellent salad – spanking fresh, nicely balanced, good and crisp – which comes ready dressed.
The problem was the dressing which was, to my palate, cloyingly sweet. This would be okay if you’re going to drink Coca-Cola but in a place where the wine selection is outstanding, it’s simply weird. This level of sugar will kill any dry wine – and especially sherry – stone dead.
In fact, in the context of the kind of wines we’re talking about here, the whole issue of salad dressings is controversial; some argue that great olive oil and a dash of lemon is more than enough. My own view is that oil, Dijon mustard and a touch of white wine vinegar is fine for most people.
Anyway, this doesn’t detract from the brilliance and originality of this fish and chip shop from another galaxy.
Our bill, with outrageously good dry sherry, some Txaxoli and mineral water came to €87.