WE FIRST catch a glimpse of the Seabank Bistro last summer — the sun is beaming down, we are driving by wishing we had a convertible; there are diners in summer clothes languishing by outdoor tables, dipping into the al fresco food and sipping on chilled white wine.
There are views over the Malahide estuary, and the restaurant is well placed, weather-wise, in that it’s sheltered from the winds by the nearby embankment, yet close enough to the sea to generate a salty-enough atmosphere.
All you need to complete the picture is Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Sean Connery and Tony Curtis flirting with each other, Martinis in their hands, to convince you that you were not in Co Dublin at all but rather in a coastal town on the French Riviera. As we pass by en route to nearby Portmarnock, we make a mental note to pay Seabank Bistro a visit.
Seven months later, it’s blowing a storm, and we’re very happy not to own a convertible, thanks all the same.
The al fresco tables are now stowed away, and as we enter we quickly realise that — despite the double doors — something of a winter chill has also invaded Seabank Bistro. The room is really warm and cosy, but the welcome is muted.
This is odd for any restaurant, let alone one that is open for business the first week into the New Year, but it’s there nonetheless.
There is hardly a nod or a cheery hello as we’re shown to our seats, and from beginning to end neither the waiter nor the maître d’ ventures over to our table to ask whether we’re happy enough with the food.
Of course, on the one hand (providing the food is very good) we couldn’t care less, but is not one of the primary functions of a restaurant of this calibre to make you feel as if you’d like to pay a return visit, or to recommend it to your friends? Or, indeed, to readers of this newspaper?
There’s something wrong, also, with the room. Decorated in a nautical theme (lots of fish details, knots, ropes, and so on), it looks more like a traditional, pretty end-of-pier café in Brighton than a bistro in a significantly upmarket area of north County Dublin.
It’s a small room, too, which should never be a problem, but the tables, with their motley collection of chairs, are just that bit too close together for comfort. And one more thing before we get to the food: the air in the gents toilet is positively, absolutely Arctic.
I’m not talking about cold, but genuinely just above freezing point. I’m aware us men folk rarely take the sitting position in restaurant toilets, so we don’t spend too much time here, but, seriously, the temperature in the smallest room in the house is low enough to keep your hands under the heater/dryer for much longer than is necessary.
To the food! Thankfully, this is the area where matters transform from worrying to wonderful. Before we order, a small dish of sliced crusty white bread, with a side bowl of tapenade, is placed on the table.
We like this mini-appetiser — it’s basic but it works. Starters of scallops (with black pudding) and prawns (with Asian sauces) arrive in good time, and are cooked to perfection – succulent, spicy, strong.
Mains of Thai Monkfish (with rice), fillet steak (with all the trimmings) and hake (with beetroot risotto) are equally fine; the former has the right levels of aromatic thrust to it, the second is cooked as requested (medium rare), and the latter is a fishy dream.
Two people share one dessert — crème brulee, which is as irresistibly crunchy as it gets.
Throughout the two and a bit hours we’re here, however, there’s a distinct lack of engagement with — how can we phrase this? — a certain joie de vivre. Whatever the reason, we pay the bill, put our coats on, and step outside into the winter night, which continues to whirl around us.
We ponder a few things as we drive home. By definition, if you’re calling your establishment a bistro you’re supposed to offer food at moderate prices, but Seabank Bistro is relatively expensive.
That it could survive anywhere else but in moneyed Malahide is a question the owners might need to ask. Finally, your reviewer couldn’t find a website for Seabank Bistro.
This is puzzling, but it lends itself to another question: is it so sure of its regular customers that it doesn’t require new ones? It certainly gave that impression the night we were there.
Dinner for three, with wine, came to €131.40, tip extra.
Monday to Saturday, 5.30pm-10pm; Sunday, 4pm-9pm.
Seabank Bistro, Coast Road, Malahide, Co Dublin;
Tel: 01-8451988; (no website)
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