Grub Spy: Totally Oarsome

Grub Spy Alan Kelly dishes the goods on Ireland’s tastiest dining destinations

The Oar House

The laid-back interior

Eeep-fried calamari

Fresh plaice

Waxing lyrical about good old-fashioned seafood restaurants has never been a problem for me. I love them all – especially when they do correctly what they’re supposed to do correctly i.e., allow the fish to do the talking: which is precisely what the freshest of fish will always do.

I was reminded of that when talking to a seafood-loving friend during the first lockdown. He was rabbiting-on in reverential tones about his latest favourite fishy place away out in the wilds of Howth. To be honest, most likely because I get so many well-meaning recommendations, I forgot all about it.

THE OAR HOUSE 8 West Pier, Howth, Co Dublin Four Stars Food: €40; Wine: €6.50

That was until I had a couple of hours to spare on a recent Dublin trip. And I have to say my friend hit the bullseye with this one.

The Oar House is tucked away in a cute waterside location along Howth’s bustling harbour wall festooned with a handsome nineteenth century lighthouse, fishing trawlers, yachts, fishmongers and restaurants. It’s like a touristy photoshoot come to life.

In the Oar’s looks department think undersea wall murals, fishing nets and oars, and all the other seaside-y paraphernalia commonly found in picture-perfect quayside eateries. In real-time, however, to rain is bucketing down, and the wind would cut you in two.

Once safely inside, a quick shufti at the menu tells me nothing overly complicated will end-up on my plate. It’s a medley of all the stuff I expect to see.

I kick things off with a sizeable portion of deep-fried calamari and garlic aïoli. Although very much old school: a stack of these crispy rings, provided they are fresh and cooked properly, are always a reliable guide to the prowess of any kitchen. A mere glance at the offering here and I know I’m in safe hands. They are crunchy and scrumptious and so fresh I can almost taste the sea with each bite.

For a main course I go for grilled plaice with toasted almond butter, a bowl of skinny fries and a portion of broccoli. When some things are so right, it’s easy to forgive a minor boo-boo. I mean, if you offer toasted almond butter, don’t be stingy with the almonds, lash them on – you won’t regret it.

Two pearly fillets of perfectly cooked plaice, topped with roasted baby tomatoes more than makes up for the little oversight. I love the satisfying way the skin slips away from the gorgeous white meat. They are so delicious they make the dismal drive from the city worthwhile. A glass of Chenin Blanc completes my seafood treat.

In these challenging times the joy of a simple fish supper with some chilled white wine should never go unappreciated. We are so lucky to have such pristine quality fish available throughout our little country. It demands to be enjoyed.

Accomplished fish cookery is a near-magical skill, and the most accomplished feat of all is to make it look easy. Its only when you try it at home do you realise how difficult it is. With that in mind a trip out to Howth harbour is always worth considering.

Especially if a visit to The Oar House is included.

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