Restaurant Review: The Chart House, The Mall, Dingle

By Joe McNamee

The Chart House, The Mall,Dingle, Co Kerry. Tel: 066-9152255;

www.thecharthousedingle.com

Over the course of a recent weekend in Dingle at the annual food festival, I lose count of the number of people who make a point of passing on one dining tip in particular: The Fish Box (Flannery’s Seafood Bar), on Green Street.

But the festival being what it is, an endless Mardi Gras of mastication, each time said tip is passed on, it is immediately squirreled away in some dusty and neglected corner of my brain, while I hurl myself back into the ‘noshpit’.

It is only as we make our traditional farewell Sunday pilgrimage around town before departing for home that I realise what appears to be a chipper is actually The Fish Box and all those earlier promptings come flooding back.

Current Wife is all out of appetite and departs on some random errand while progeny and I stick a curious nose in the door.

Fifteen minutes later, she returns to find us gathered around ‘The Fish Box’, a gargantuan portion of deep-fried prawns, Monkfish goujons, fish of the day (haddock), calamari and proper homemade chips, all exquisite. “What happened?” says she, “I thought ye weren’t hungry?”

‘What happened’ was I walked in and saw on the daily specials board, a class of Spanish fish stew (other subsequent specials have included: Turbot or White Sole with Baby Spinach & Sundried Tomato Butter; Butterfly Prawns with Chilli & Garlic with Courtney’s Rye Bread, and there always a seafood salad), a far cry from most ‘chipper’ menus around the country and the perfect template for casual seafood dining on an island surrounded by some of the very best fish and shellfish in the world.

The Fish Box is now number one on my hit-list for when we next return to Dingle.

It is the night before, an exceedingly crisp and clear Saturday night and the town is en fête, some still triumphantly sporting their Blas na hÉireann trophies.

Inside, the atmosphere hums with an equivalent vibrancy, a cosy little ‘parlour’ of bare stone walls and low wood panelled ceilings, all cast in a gentle glow and you could measure contentment oozing from diners with a Geiger counter.

The Chart House is a family favourite, the scene of La Daughter’s nocturnal dining debut in a ‘proper’ restaurant, the result of a babysitting snafu, and while we fretted that a four-year-old might blacken the family name, it all went swimmingly, thanks in no small part to proprietor Jim McCarthy’s superb yet utterly relaxed hospitality.

Sadly, tonight, La Daughter is rather delicate of stomach so it is left to we remaining three to do the heavy lifting.

My pan-seared tuna is a beautiful hunk of fresh fish, flashed and then sat on a crunchy, bright Citrus and Fennel Salad with Almond Salsa while CW’s Tian of Brandon Bay Crab is sweet meat with creamy Avocado Mousse and Rocket and Pineapple Salsa. No 2 Son wades into a divinely balanced parsnip soup, earthy and healing.

CW opts for a nice piece of halibut wearing a pistachio and hazelnut crust while I find deep, deep comfort in Oven-Baked Fillet of Monkfish, toothsome gobbets of fish immersed in Butternut Squash Puree, Caper & Almond Butter and Rocket Salad supplying the kick in the pants that saves me from swooning away altogether.

No 2 Son, though, strikes purest gold with Slow Braised Shank of Kerry Lamb, an elemental hunk of braised meat barely clinging to the bone, a glistening mantle of deep, dark, rich pearl onion jus only crying out to be stirred into fine wholegrain mustard creamed potato on which it rests.

We share two accomplished desserts: a Passion Fruit Tart with Charred Marshmallow and Elderflower Sorbet, Crème Fraiche perfectly arresting the sugar quotient; while Warm Tahini Brownie with Malt Ice Cream and Dingle Whiskey Sauce smashes it out of the park with an exceedingly straight bat.

The Chart House has always delivered but, with the arrival of chef Rachael Boyle, there is a discernable step up in consistency and standards.

She is certainly not reinventing the wheel but her offering remains one of the finest examples around of what might best be termed, ‘Irish Bistro’, an elevated rendition of traditional Irish cooking while McCarthy ensures The Chart House serves it up with a genuinely warming Irish welcome.

Don’t you just love it, when a favourite restaurant keeps getting better?

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