A fun beach-hut in the city; cocktail and tapas bar with tasty food, excellent cocktails, good wines and charming staff.
ONCE worked as a dishwasher in a hotel in Germany and met a girl from small-town Missouri who knew just one thing about Dublin City — Molly Malone.
She had learned the song in school and was quite disappointed to hear that Dublin was actually a very poor place for seafood — but that was the 1990s.
There is still one remaining fish stall on Moore St, by the way, but once the lovely Margaret and her sister retire, their licence goes with them.
Thankfully good seafood can be found in Dublin in fine places like Fish Shop on Queen St and in spots like Super Miss Sue, Matt the Threshers, and the Cliff Townhouse.
Urchin is the new venue in the basement of the Cliff and is pitched as a ‘beach hut in the city’.
There is a heated outdoor area for smokers and inside is all white painted furniture and pastels with deckchair blue and orange colours to the fore.
The menu was devised by Cliff Townhouse head chef Seán Smith and executive chef Martijn Kajuiter, who runs the Michelin star Cliff House in Ardmore, Co Waterford.
The menu is currently just nine tapas dishes costing €6 each with a couple of larger dishes to share (€12).
For drinks there are creative cocktails and a quality wine list (for quality, read expensive but good — our Runkel Rheinhessen Spatburgunder was excellent and well worth €42).
We began, however, with two concoctions that managed (pleasingly) to whet the appetite without overwhelming the palate — a gin, elderflower, vanilla, and violet- flavoured skyscraper — and a vodka, passion-fruit, Benedictine, and lime passionista.
Even on a freezing quiet February evening, the ‘beach-hut’ theme worked, helped by lighting and an intelligent choice of music that mixed modern soul-dance vibes with older disco and soul.
We began by ordering seven of the nine dishes on the menu. First to arrive was some delectable jamon on crunchy sweet pan-con-tomate.
This was quickly followed by sweet spicy pork belly on lettuce and topped with crème fraiche and fried crispy bits including shrimp.
Heat came from sriracha sauce and umami from bonito flakes, soy sauce, and sake flavours. More importantly the texture and rich porkiness came from the four-hour cooking time.
Quail egg with sweet salty and fatty sobrasada (chorizo-like) sausage worked well but you will need to like sobrasada as this is full-on flavour. Similarly the caramel-topped choux pastry bun filled with (almost) liquid duck liver parfait was positively decadent.
Much as I loved the pork and liver dishes, as with the main restaurant overhead, the seafood dishes were arguably the stars. Scallops were cured in a vac-pack with seaweed, ginger beer, lime, lemon, and salt, giving the delicate flesh a zingy complex flavour.
The scallops are essentially raw but the pickled ginger and ginger beer marinade shines through and gives a cooked mouth-feel stab to the palate that contrasts wonderfully with the raw flesh. I can still taste the dish as I write this five days later.
Flaggy Shore (Co Clare) oysters with ponzu and yuzu flavours were also almost raw but not quite, as were the Razor clams with seaweed, pomegranate, and lemon emulsion — we ordered this last dish twice!
Ceviche sea trout on a salt stone with dill, watermelon, and citrus flavours drew extra salt from the stone which was a nice touch, but this was the disappointment of the night — not quite a failure but it just didn’t work for me. Perhaps a less fatty fish would work better.
There is no dessert menu but Black Forest gateau cocktail was a revelation — kirsch, cherries, and chocolate in liquid form — one of the best ‘desserts’ I’ve had in months.
I returned a couple of days later to try the octopus with potatoes and paprika, and the sea urchin cocktail — it was worth it.
The salty, creamy, ozone intensity of the urchin is melded with a rich tomato hollandaise sauce — purists might complain but I didn’t.
There is serious thought behind this menu and it works — there are currently no cockles or mussels, but I suspect my friend from Missouri would be happy to trade them for Urchin’s scallops, octopus, and sea urchin.
A meal for two, two cocktails, a bottle of German pinot noir and a shared dessert cocktail cost €171.
Monday-Thursday: 12pm-11.30pm; Friday-Saturday: 12pm-12.30am; Sunday: 4pm -11pm
Urchin at Cliff Townhouse, 22 St Stephens Green, Dublin 2
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