I know what I'm going to get when I walk into most places to review them. Some might miss the mark or have a superb night, but when you eat out about 4 times a week it is pretty rare that you'll have your breath taken away by a dining experience. While the cooking in places like Thornton's, 777 and Drury Buildings is outstanding it takes something truly remarkable to take make me stop and punch the air with excitement.
The three discoveries for me in Dublin that blew my mind were having my first coffee in 3Fe, biting into my first Bunsen burger and experiencing brunch for the first time in Forrest Avenue. While the core product was always superb, I think I'm drawn to small "starter uppers" doing things on a budget and not using money to wow the customers, but pure passion and brilliance at delivering a world class Irish experience.
The 4th such place was Fish Shop.
Now, you may remember me raving about them last year for selling some of the best fish in the country out of small wooden stall in Blackrock Market. You could sit outside, BYOB and watch as they battered your fish and fried it in front of you. I longed for them to open a restaurant and presumed it would be a formality, but it never seemed to come. But I'm now happy to report that Fish Shop have just opened their first proper restaurant in Smithfield, opposite Dice Bar.
They couldn't really have picked a better spot in town if they had tried. From Capel Street which is home to the wonderful Brother Hubbard, down the road to the superb Oxmantown and into Smithfield (which has the likes of Jo Burger, My Meat Wagon and great pubs like the Cobblestone) up to Stoneybatter with Slice Café and L. Mulligan Grocers this has to be the most exciting part of town for small, brilliant Irish start up food businesses.
The lower rents force the foodies starting here to be more creative and Fish Shop (how cool is their geeky branding by the way?) have done just that with their new premises. Blink and you'd walk past it, but when you step inside it is a small room of serene beauty with simplicity at the fore,and the smell of fresh battered fish in the air without being as overpowering as an old Dublin chipper.
I don't like reviewing a place straight after it has first opened, but I just couldn't help myself away once I knew their doors were open for business.
What I love about these guys is they keep things so simple. On opening week, so focused were they on the quality of their food that they only had one item on the menu. One! They serve wine, and next week they will also have beer available too. In terms of food, they'll be extending their menu to include other sea food dishes as well as extended sides, but I just love the confidence and patience of owners who put one dish on the menu. 'We're not going to have 18 sides and 24 sauces - so take this fish and enjoy it because we know it is brilliant and we don't want to stretch ourselves.' This kind of behaviour is to be applauded and celebrated.
Naturally, I ordered the one dish on the menu - fish and chips with home made tartar sauce. The fish was every bit as good as I remembered it from Blackrock Market. Lush, white, fresh and the batter was both thin and crispy, and as light as a feather. If the fish was good then the chips were even better - in fact, they actually steal the show. Dipped into the tartar sauce with a squeeze of lemon and the lightest dusting of salt, I could eat these all day long.
There are about 15 seats in the place and they don't take bookings. This reminds me of a hip place in London or New York, that would a queue around the corner and I have no doubt that day will come very quickly for these guys. The whole dish cost a mere tenner which (with all due respect) is a complete disgrace because I would have paid way way more for food that good.
I walked out with a huge smile on my face, yet already dreading how popular it will become and how hard it will be to get a seat here over the coming months. If you wanted to show anybody new to Dublin what this city is about I'd start with 3 pints in Frank Ryan's, into Fish Shop for fish and chips, and then pop across the road to finish the night off in the Dice Bar. You wouldn't have traveled more than 20 yards the entire night but it is Dublin at it's absolute best, mixing the old with the new. in what is quickly becoming the hippest part of town. To make things even better the "pop up" or summer market stall in Blackrock will be opening up very soon for the warmer months.
Get down here quick before the crowds for a beautiful, well thought-out experience created by people who clearly love what they do.