I have to admit, being greeted by a two-tiered oyster tank as soon as you walk into a restaurant is impressive. Being greeted by a glass counter of the freshest fish you can imagine at the same time is even more so.
SOLE has both, and impressive is exactly what the shiny (so beautifully shiny) SOLE seafood and grill on South William Street is.
Opened just under a week, it's a "high-end casual dining experience" and SOLE's food philosophy is all about seafood sustainability and local Irish producers.
I'm here to chat with Richie Wilson, the executive chef of sister restaurant FIRE and his head chef Anna Filipaneto about Dublin's newest restaurant. Indulgent dishes, exotic and local ingredients and a stylish but relaxed vibe that makes me feel that yes, SOLE is going to be the place to go for an evening to remember.
Hopping on to the growing seafood trend in Dublin, SOLE is changing the shack-style scene in the city by bringing a touch of luxury in everything it does
Richie tells me of his idea for the restaurant. Why go the high end route? "There’s a huge need for a seafood restaurant like this in the city," he says.
"There’s a growing trend within Dublin for more seafood, and a lot of those restaurants are the more simplistic approach and it’s a very cool approach – one that I’m a huge fan of.
"What we’re after is something slightly more higher end: looking for more upmarket ingredients."
SOLE is designed to be the kind of restaurant where you rock up at 8pm and aren't out the door until hours later, happy and full of good vibes and even better food.
"We don’t want it to just be drop in and drop out," Riche says. "A lot of restaurants in town right now are a little bit quicker, and maybe that’s keeping up with the fast pace of life, but when you step into say, Howth, the restaurants there are a little more relaxed – a little slower – and we’re trying to bring more of that into the city centre."
Carefully sourced ingredients makes SOLE's menu more intriguing than the casual fish dishes Irish people are used to
Mains include Norwegian King Crab Legs for 65 quid if you're feeling flush, a whole dover sole with lemon butter and wilted spinach (€47.50) and a Miso Sea Bass, grilled over coals with soy, chilli and rice noodles (€29.50).
Richie and his team put a lot of effort into finding the right ingredients and want that to come across in the menu. The problem with seafood sometimes, he reckons, is you can get ‘cheffy’ on things, getting overly creative and fussy.
"You have to realise you need to let the fish speak for itself and be the way it should be"
"We bring a little more luxury to the seafood market; oysters deserve that little more time to spend over them, things like the King Crab deserve to have more time spent enjoying them."
The menu began about nine months ago with the idea of seafood platters, the only thing that's still stuck from first ideas. Salmon is smoked especially for Richie and Anna in Howth and they trawled suppliers to find the perfect prawn.
“I’ve no idea how many prawns we’ve tasted in the last nine months to find the right prawn for the prawn cocktail, the right one for the tiger prawn dish, the right prawn for the platter – we’ve six different prawns on the menu.”
But what about the age-old question of value for money? Is SOLE all show or does it deliver?
Richie is a firm believer that when you’re always driving for the lowest price the only person that suffers is the customer. "Because what happens when you’re trying to serve a €10 main course is the ingredients have to represent that price, y’know? So we’re sort of striving against that, and instead we’re trying to give you the best possible ingredients available to us."
"There is going to be a little bit of finger pointing here and people saying ‘oh that’s far too expensive’, but again I’d come back to that you get what you pay for"
"The King Crab is expensive yes, because it’s an extraordinarily expensive ingredient to get your hands on, and rightly so. It’s hard for fishermen to go out and get, it’s harder still for us to get it into this country and treat it with the respect that it deserves and get it onto your plate. The whole Dover sole that we have, we get it in tip-top condition, we fillet it and serve it at the table - so it’s not just the ingredients we serve, it’s everything that comes with it. But it’s worth it.
SOLE understands that people want more from a restaurant now than ever before, and they're stepping up to the plate
The consumer is a lot better informed thanks to Netflix shows and a constant flow of information on social media about food and ingredients; the right and wrong way to eat and what's on trend.
Richies agrees that "it’s not such a bad thing to expect more from the chefs and it can only be good to raise the bar. We went from really arty-farty stuff to great quality ingredients put on the plate in its simplest form."
As for the team's hopes for SOLE in the next year? Anna wants to bring not just single people and couples inside but more families, everybody. Richie isn’t looking for any awards or accolades.
“The biggest award of all is just to have the bums on the seats. It took many years as a chef to realise that the best thing you can have is a full restaurant on a Saturday night. That’s just awesome.”
The way SOLE has kicked off, we imagine there'll be a lot of bums in seats for months and months to come. Now that really is awesome.
SOLE is open late 6 nights a week Monday-Saturday from 5pm. Opening for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays from March 23rd.