That desperate times call for double measures is a relatively new truism of my own making, but I reckon it might find some traction. Fear and uncertainty must also be treated with doses of those things that comfort us. The little indugences that push the plunger for the personality you’ve settled upon – tummyrubs.com, Murder She Wrote, Otter watching, shit bands that mean well, wellness. It’s all cool, whatever gets you through, no one’s getting cancelled here.
When it comes to comfort food, however, one category exerts a gravitational pull for me – deep fried things. There is a divine transubstantiation that occurs when mere foods are introduced to vats of furiously roiling fats. This is, of course, elevated to the sublime in Japan’s temples to the art of deep-frying – the tempura-ya. The method was actually introduced by Portuguese missionaries in Nagasaki in the 16th century, with the word Tempura itself a derivation of the latin tempora – ‘time(s)’. But we’re not here to learn. We are here, inevitably, to talk fish and chips.
So often disappointing in this town (when you’ve had it done right), with tasteless fish filmed with a gummy jism of uncooked batter. It pains me to think that it’s undoubtedly easier to get better batter on that other island across the Irish Sea. I recall being somewhat stupefied to discover that it was Greeks who ran the racket in London, having foolishly presumed in my callow youth that the five (or so) families from Lazio had the gig sown up worldwide. Everyday you’re in school eh? At some point in the mid-nineties my buddy and I (then loafing in splendid squalor in Bloomsbury) would weekly draw lots to decide who would run the North Sea Fish Bar gauntlet that night. The place was (and still is!) in Kings Cross back when you didn’t go there to take the train to Paris.
There was very little that I didn’t like about Fish Shop when it came ashore some five or six years ago. Not even the location on Benburb Street, a grim stretch fondly lyricised by rheum-eyed balladeers of the rare ‘aul times. This is where rough-handed men, engorged with porter, would seek out farthing-strapped fishwives forced by want to hoist their petticoats and be taken up the Monto. I may be conflating a couple of deprivation Dublin classics there, but you get the picture.
The young owners were pioneers of sorts. The story seems to have faded into fable at this point – young courting couple Jumoke Akintola and Peter Hogan introduce the patrons of Blackrock market to the pleasures of pollack and ‘chipped potatoes’ – the union is blessed and a pair of places are born just north of the river where they know how to cook and serve fish. The fine(er) dining venture on Queen Street has gone the way of Newfoundland cod, with the pair having relocated to Hogan’s native Tramore to open a new place called Beach House. Good luck to them.
Their (remaining) bright, high-ceilinged, room on a still humid night hosted my return to (indoor) restaurant patronage and boy, it was just the thing. There were maybe six other diners, well spaced, and it felt like good times. If it wasn’t for Tommy’s face mask, across the other side of the handsome white marble bar, it could have been old times. We ate pristine oysters with glasses of excellent Albariño before devouring portions of Hake and Brill (the ‘posh’ option). Both were superb with the chunky house tartar but we just favoured the former. Obviously, both were served with chips.
Early in my current marriage I began to realise the depth of the potato fetish I had gotten myself into. I’ve seen eyes glaze over at memories of her father’s first crops from the garden. We’re just short of talking terroir. Indeed, her popular blog YouTubers.ie was just recently taken down for obscure infringement reasons. She is the product of a place where Mr Tayto shares equal billing with Jesus and she very much approves of the chips here. Every now and then I’d find myself meeting the gaze of a strap-hanger on the passing Luas and wonder whether those were looks of envy or condemnation.
It will not come as news to anyone who cares about such things to hear that this is almost certainly the number one one and one in town. I love the place.
Niall Sabongi of the Seafood Café, Klaw, SSI etc is not one to stand idly by so when his places were plague-shuttered he adroitly created the most sought-after food truck in town. Owing to arcane DCC regulations around food trucks he can’t just park up on the street and needs to be on private property. Who ever heard of ‘street food’ anyway?
The Salty Buoy’s itinerant peregrinations (should that be gullivantings, albatrodysseys?) mean that you should track them online, but we had our first taste right in our backyard at a studiously distanced shindig to mark the re-opening of the Roe & Co distillery on James Street. The outdoor setup is swell and designed by our friends at Catapult, you should check it out.
While there we had textbook lobster rolls (with Old Bay tortilla chips) and a killer mixed seafood boil. We seemed to miss out, however, on the signature dish of Hake Kiev. We ended up chasing the truck down to its Wednesday digs at the (wildly popular) Baste where we again missed the Hake but it was pleasant night and we got to catch up with a couple of old friends, one of whom had created the jaunty brand identity.
We also had some oysters and some of the finest french fries this side of Balthazar, but what would I know about spuds. So that Hake Kiev, we finally caught up with it back on James’ Street again. It’s a neat idea, and the internet, ravenous for such novelties, is predictably eating it up. You should too, it’s even better IRL.
I’m starting to think that maybe this is no mere food truck, maybe it’s the van(guard) of something more…
Words: Conor Stevens
76 Benburb Street, Dublin 7
@ Baste, 29 Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8
@ Roe & Co Distillery, 92 James Street, Dublin 8