We talk to Chef Niall Sabongi about his mission to make delicious, healthy seafood as accessible as possible in Dublin.
Niall, tell us what inspired you to open your seafood restaurants in Dublin.
As a nation between the famine and Catholicism I think we kind of fell out of love with the sea. Seafood is a very natural thing and we love eating it when we go away, but you try and do the same thing in Dublin and it’s a very posh, off-putting affair. So I was thinking ‘This is kind of mad’ and that’s what inspired Klaw. I wanted to just slap the posh out of it and try to make it accessible and easy, so that it can be enjoyed without any of the palaver that’s so often involved. ‘Build it and they will come’ was the philosophy. I really love cooking for people and watching them enjoying it, so Klaw, Klaw Poké and the Seafood Café are vehicles for me to do that.
You’ve described the model you use as “One Team, One Dream”.
Everyone knows that there’s a huge chef shortage in Ireland at the moment, so instead of me trying to find chefs that aren’t there I find passionate people who really love food and customer service and train them. It’s all completely blended, everyone does everything, so there is no role that differentiates front of house from back of house anymore. If a customer asks a question it’s not like people are running back to the kitchen to ask if a dish is coeliac friendly. Instead they can say, “I actually made that yesterday, it was brilliant!” and they get excited about it. So Klaw’s definitely an alternative experience.
How do you source your ingredients?
All of our fish and seafood comes from my small wholesale seafood company Sustainable Seafood Ireland (SSI). We take great pride in our high quality fish and seafood, all our fish is locally and seasonally sourced from dedicated and responsible fishermen practising sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. We offer in all three restaurants the freshest & most sustainable array of fish, coming in seven days a week and it guarantees that I’m as close to the source as humanly possible. Because we do very little to the food, the quality really speaks volumes.
What would you recommend from the Klaw menu to those ordering takeaway food online for delivery for the first time?
For people who love seafood I would recommend trying a Poké Bowl. Poké is addictively tasty, a really clean, healthy and affordable dish, which uses Irish seafood. It ticks all the boxes. It’s a delicious rice bowl that’s become a worldwide phenomenon and traditionally poké is made up of chunks of raw tuna, salmon and other seafood marinated in soy and sesame.
We’re also famous for our gorgeous lobster rolls. Who doesn’t want lobster in a hot warm buttered bun wrapped in mayonnaise?
What’s your own favourite item on the menu?
It changes all the time! At the moment I’m crushing on our new, spiced cod burger, a big fillet of cod with wasabi aioli and pickled cucumber. And because it’s spring we’ve a lot more grilled fish on the menu. In two of the locations we’ve had barbeques purpose-built for us, so we have lovely fish like hake roasted on the bone over a coal fire. Delicious!
What else do you have in the works?
This year it’s all about making Klaw, Klaw Poké and the Seafood Café super-sustainable and ensuring that they’ll be there for the next hundred years. I’m also looking at a concept called the Urban Monger, essentially a Fishmonger, Grill and Cookery School, all under one roof.
I’m going to try to flip that on its head and make it exciting, so before the end of the year we’ll see the Urban Monger open in more than one location around Dublin.