FishShack Café
1 Martello Terrace
Co. Dublin
Phone: 01 284 4555

Irish Daily Mail
8 August 2015

Sitting in the FishShack Café, gazing out on the grey waves of Scotsman’s Bay, I’m struck by two things.

This has to be the only seafood restaurant between Dublin city centre and, oh, Wexford, that has a view of the sea. Am I right? I’m always happy to be corrected, but I think this is so. Perhaps I reflects our traditional lack of interest in fish, the legacy of having seen it, for generations of Catholics, as a weekly penance.

The other thing that springs into my unattended mind is that I’m sitting only a few metres away from where the Mirabeau once generated vast sums of money for its flamboyant (or shameless) chef-proprietor, Sean Kinsella. The great and good flocked here, not because the food was particularly good, I gather, but because it was rich and so were the prices. The Mirabeau, a favourite of Charlie Haughey and Terry Keane – enough said – ground to a halt, eventually, due to a tax issue. It could be an icon for the era, I suppose, even down to the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud that Kinsella parked permanently outside (there was a rumour that the engine had been sold separately).

Well, The FishShack Café would not appeal at all to Charlie and Terry or to the other Mirabeau regulars. Where the Mirabeau was all about conspicuous consumption (never in the history of human folly was more Krug consumed by people who wouldn’t have known it from their Asti Spumante) and crustaceans drowned in cream and cognac, this little restaurant is about simplicity.

I’ll admit that the tables and chairs have the naff aux rustic look of the kind of American steakhouse that comes with hunting trophies behind the bar, but the rest of the fit-out has been done with the kind of commendable restraint that is not always dictated by a modest budget.

Of course, you can’t eat the décor or, indeed, the view but there’s a marine tang, as you would expect, to the menu.

Scampi, proper Dublin Bay prawns coated in a thin layer of crisp breadcrumbs and served with a wedge of lemon and some tartare sauce (presented in an oyster shell) were exactly what I want to eat when I’m beside the seaside. And at €16 they represent remarkable value for money. I mean, we are not talking about the rubbery prawns farmed in South East Asia where they destroy whole ecosystems. No, these are the real thing, delicate in flavour, distinctively textured (and no mushy ones, so perfectly fresh). Scampi like this, or these, to be pedantic about it, are a luxury.

They are also a reminder that less is more. At the Mirabeau in the old days, there would be have been plenty of nods to the great chef Escoffier but I bet his key command surtout, faites simple, was studiously ignored: “above all, keep it simple”.

One of our other dishes, shrimp nachos, was not exactly simple and is, in fact, a rather brave creation by proprietor Padaric Hanley of Ouzos (in Dalkey and Blackrock). I have a feeling that people may have tried to talk him out of this, but I’m glad he stuck to his guns. This nicely iconoclastic dish, a metaphorical two fingers to the purists, involves, well, nachos with brown shrimp and chorizo plus the usual creamy and cheesy elements. It’s a savoury tornado and, most of all, pure fun. The late Mr Kinsella would not have approved and that’s fine by me.

Lobster mac and cheese is, perhaps, a nod to the Mirabeau tendency. It sounds like conspicuous consumption but at €18, it’s not. And therein lies the problem. While I gather it sells like hot cakes, the only way to make a mac and cheese that tastes sufficiently of crab and lobster is to put it on the menu for about €40.

It was a decent mac and cheese, to be fair, that tasted vaguely of seafod. No hardship, it’s true, and quite a comforting dish.

In Ireland, the concept of a specialist restaurant is still quite alien, so carnivores can have a hamburger or a club sandwich, both of which looked good as they swept by to other tables.

With a glass of Chablis, the bill came to €54. The Fish Shack Café is a very good idea, an antidote to pretension and one of the few places in or near Dublin where you can eat seafood and enjoy a marine view. Correct me, if I’m wrong.