If you’re knocking about in Dublin for a few days you must, I’m repeatedly nagged in the build-up to this trip, get amongst the seafood. Some of the best in the world, etc etc.
And, perched at the counter of the Seafood Café chucking half a dozen of the finest oysters I’ve ever knocked back down my throat, I’ve no reason to argue. We watch our selection being shucked adroitly in front of us – three briny Connemara beauties and three plump, salty beasts, Harty in both name and nature – and, although the usual extras are on hand should we feel the need, we neck ‘em naked. To mask the raw flavour of these food-in-HD specimens would be criminal.
The tiny open kitchen at the other end of the counter- plancha, fryer, hob – bangs out plate after plate of seafoody goodness and reminds me of those other quick-fire kitchens at swanky Sabor and Barrafina, where orders are dealt with and dispatched at a similar rapid pace, and by similarly no-nonsense chefs.
Certainly, The Seafood Café’s crab on toast – the bread topped with a mound of delicately fragrant, flaky meat – would hold its own against anything on their Michelin-anointed menus, and at a knock-down price, too.
Three boulders of mackerel arancini are more robust but equally well executed, crunchy breadcrumb giving way to soft, fishy filling that’s elevated with a spritz of lemon juice and a scoosh of mayo. Aren’t we all? Informal fodder done well, this.
It’s not all hunky-dory, though, and we’re having a niggly time. The counter’s grubby with deluge from its previous inhabitants and, once we’re plonked there, we’re left hanging and hungry. It’s not that busy at this time, and although the team buzz about in a friendly enough manner there’s little direction. We go from being invisible one minute to attention-magnets the next, as three different people in quick succession ask if we’re ready to order. We already have done, ta. And again. And again.
When we plump for a 50€ bottle of Txakoli – kidding ourselves that we’re doing it for the oysters – we’re instead given a Chardonnay, and when our choice does eventually land it’s tepid and the glasses grimy. The barman tells us it’s his first shift. Not your fault, fella.
But back to the good stuff. A vat of top-notch sweet mussels, their broth steamy with white wine and warmed garlic, could feed a family of fishing folk and – good as they are and try as we do – we barely make a dint, although the fries are, of course, clocked. This, and a plate of those oysters, are what I’ll have for lunch if we revisit.
And, for that food, I’d happily make one back in; we’ve eaten well and it’s a flirty menu that with welcome talk of a lobster roll, seafood chowder, and fish and chips, invites further investigation. It’s been a stop-starty meal though; the evening never feeling like it’s flowing fluidly, and we leave feeling slightly befuddled and full of warm wine.
You’ll notice that – without any hint or request from us – those oysters have been knocked off the bill, and I suspect that they too feel like it’s been a bit of a bumpy night, for them and for us.