OH, I DO LOVE TO BE...
IN THIS BASEMENT ON ST STEPHEN'S GREEN
22 St Stephen’s Green
Phone: 01 638 3939
Irish Daily Mail
11 March 2017
We’ve all heard of food that puts a smile on your face but I’m not sure how common it is. I was thinking of this as I swallowed a raw scallop in the brand new Urchin the other day. I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Of course, it wasn’t a raw scallop, plain and simple. It had been subjected to a form of alchemy by chef Seán Smith who, when he is cooking upstairs in the Cliff Townhouse, keeps it simple and, indeed, classical. Down here in the basement he lets rip with all manner of creativity in which he is encouraged, aided and abetted by executive chef Martijn Kajuiter of the Michelin-starred Cliff House in Ardmore, Co. Waterford.
Urchin is a bar where mixologist Ryan Pedlar delivers a bewildering selection of cocktails, a seaside themed space with very clever lighting that makes you almost imagine the sound of the tide on shingle.
The food – small plates, plates for sharing, whatever you want to call this very contemporary way of eating out – is also seaside themed and, yes, sea urchins do indeed feature on the menu.
So, back to those scallops. The menu says baldly “West Cork Scallop – Ginger Beer, Tonic, Lime, Crisp Seaweed” and this could only be more on trend if the capital letters were all changed to lower case.
Seemingly, the scallops are briefly marinated in the ingredients mentioned (apart from the seaweed) and then placed in a vacuum so they hoover up the flavours. When you bite, there’s an explosion in your mouth, starting with the taste of shellfish and ending with the smoky, saline crunch of the seaweed. Hence the grin.
Sea urchin, scooped from its shell and served in a sea urchin shaped little bowl was topped with a warm hollandaise flavoured with tomato, the slippery seafood contrasting with the crunch of tiny fragments of celery. You could argue that this is over-complicated but the proof was in the eating. It really worked.
Sobrasada, the soft chorizo that is very much on trend, came on tiny buns with a quail’s egg on top, ricotta and a touch of Sriracha, the tart, hot sauce from Thailand.
Lots going on there but, in fact, it was rather overshadowed by other dishes such as the pulled pork belly (to be fair the menu doesn’t use that hackneyed phrase).
This was served on iceberg lettuce leaves with mushroom, mint, possibly basil and a crunchy amalgam of crustacean (how do they do that?) and a drizzle of tart yoghurt. It tasted of much more than the sum of its parts (and not much of pork which is not a complaint).
Octopus with very finely sliced green cabbage, potato and paprika served on a little slice of bread was, essentially, a riff on the Spanish polpo alla gallega, and very pleasant if, unlike some of the other dishes, not a conversation stopper.
The sea trout, however, was. Picture this. A solid brick of pink salt with a shallow, bowl-shaped depression in the centre. In this lies little cubes of raw sea trout marinated with dill vinegar, watermelon and – I think – chilli, possibly ginger. A tiny squeezy bottle of the marinade is there for you to further dress the fish. The idea is that you turn it with your fork so that it gets saltier.
It sounds rather mad but the effect is, frankly, quite delicious.
So, clearly the food is rather out of the ordinary, to say the least. The delivery is rather different too.
You start by buying so many €4 tokens – every dish costs €4, €8 or €12 – and you mark what you want on your menu sheet. You then exchange your tokens for food at the bar. It sounds complicated, to be honest, and I wonder if this system will prove sustainable with Dublin punters.
Anyway, we got out for less than €100, including a modicum of wine. Not everyone is going to “get” it but Urchin is not just fun, it’s serious fun with some highly inventive cooking.