The Fish Shop
Irish Daily Mail
2 May 2015
We seem to be on a bit of a roll. I keep finding really good places in which to eat and I must apologise if this is becoming monotonous. All I can say in my defence is that (a) it’s somewhat self-inflicted in that I actually go in search of quality rather than rubbish and (b) it’s all in stark contrast to when I kicked off as a restaurant critic 21 years ago.
In those days you could wait weeks to hear of somewhere new and good and then, chances were, it would turn out to be awful. And here we are, with the recession just about lifting – at least for certain sections of the population – and hipsterdom becoming mainstream (I saw one in Liffey Valley the other day, for heaven’s sake), and Dublin now having more excellent restaurants than you could shake a stick at. If you were so inclined.
Now, I have no complaints about reviewing restaurants that are doing a really good job. Readers may differ, however. I have noticed that while a lot of people simply want to know if they would enjoy a particular establishment, most enjoy nothing more than a vivid description of a meal that can be filed under “car crash”.
If that’s you, don’t worry. There will be one along in a minute, because no matter how good the general run of restaurants become there will be always someone who thinks it’s an easy way to make money and whose enthusiasm is in inverse proportion to his or her actual ability. (It’s a bit like me and landscape gardening, but that’s another story).
Anyway, this week’s exceptionally happy discovery is tucked away, just off the north quays near Queen Street bridge, a tiny restaurant that serves a very limited menu and offers a sum total of three wines. Generally speaking I find that the less offered, the better it tends to be.
The Fish Shop is a shining example. Its bare brick walls and recycled timber interior doesn’t feel like a design statement, more a case of fitting the place out well but cheaply. It’s an attitude that extends to the food.
There are two starters, steamed mussels and tempura oysters; my companion is allergic to seafood that doesn’t bite, so I hit the oysters: salty, crisp, tender inside and topped with a crackingly fresh, tangy salsa of cucumber and other clean-tasting, elements such as chilli, red onion and coriander leaf. Three of these delights, served in the shell, were as good as I’ve had anywhere (and that includes Bentley’s Oyster Bar in London).
Hake, perfectly cooked within its impeccably crisp, thin batter, came with fine chips and a salad that included much mustard greens and seeds with a gentle, subtle dressing.
Hake featured in our other main course in the form of a meaty middle cut, again in crisp batter, but served within a crusty bun, sitting on a generous layer of fennel slaw. If you have tried making this yourself, you will know that the perfect form is pretty elusive: it needs to be shredded very finely and dressed in such a way as not to lose the subtle aniseed flavour; it needs to retain crunch but not so much as to tax the jaw muscles.
This version did all that, and more. It was the best fennel slaw I’ve yet encountered. And we had a portion of chunky tartare sauce, most definitely not scooped out of a jar.
The Fish Shop, which started as a takeaway in a shed at the back of Blackrock Market, is the creation of Jumoke Akintola and Peter Hogan who met when they were teaching in London. All I can say is that they are adding greatly to the sum of human happiness.
It is bizarre that fish is so overlooked in this island nation of ours. Perhaps it’s the legacy of fish on Fridays but even in Famine days, the teeming seas were ignored. I have a theory that we Irish have a fundamental hatred of fish and trees, but I think I may have to write a thesis to explain it.
The Fish Shop and, somewhat more elaborately, Super Miss Sue, are redefining fish and chips. Gone is the thick batter of the traditional chipper and in comes something gossamer light that both crunches in the mouth and retains the fish’s natural moisture. And the chips are made on the premises, from potatoes chosen for their chip-making potential.
With a large bottle of mineral water and a bottle of very proper Alsace Riesling, our bill came to €67.