‘We felt that in Dublin if we did something simple well enough, and with an honesty that people could see, we would make a go of it.’ So say Jumoke (known as J) Akintola and Peter Hogan, who met seven years ago in London where they both worked as teachers. They used their holidays and weekends to indulge their love of street food, and set up a small food business. What started as a hobby soon revealed itself to be what they wanted to do full-time. Then, Peter moved back home to Dublin and took J with him. ‘We were really encouraged by the community feel of Dublin and the small independent businesses that were popping up around town and doing so well.’
They set up a stall serving fish and chips in the Blackrock Market in early 2014, with the end goal of a permanent space never far from their minds. They found the space at 6 Queen Street in Smithfield in August 2014; they got the keys in November, started work in January 2015 and opened in April, with just 16 seats and an open kitchen. By this time, Fish Shop had perfected its simple system of serving fresh fish daily.
Setting up a fish restaurant in Smithfield makes a lot of sense; Fish Shop are a five minute walk away from Kish Fish on Bow Street, a family business who’ve been selling fish in this area for nearly 50 years. ‘We’ve come to rely on our suppliers who do a great job in sourcing the best fish from all around Ireland. We chat to them on the phone at least once or twice a day to find out what’s being landed.’ There are a small number of other great local suppliers name-checked on the menu; Arun Bakery and Le Levain for the sourdough and brioche buns, Maddens for the spuds and McNally’s Farm for the greens.
The Fillet O’ Fish Shop (€10) is never off the menu; it’s a hake fillet (generally from Dingle) balanced between a sweet, toasted brioche bun and held together with a steak knife speared through it. A fennel, apple and mint slaw adds a satisfying crunch to each mouthful. There is none of the depressingly soggy oiliness that plagues so many fillets of fried fish in this city; this fish is beautifully battered, crispy and light on the outside and flaky and pearly white on the inside. That same quality of batter is at work on the Beer Battered Catch of the Day (€9). Chips are ordered on the side and are worth the extra €3.50.
For starters, we get two large bowls of steaming shellfish. West Cork’s organic Roaring Water Bay mussels arrive in a subtle parsley and garlic broth that we mop up with soft slices of sourdough (€2). The plate I enjoy eating the most at Fish Shop is a special of Sligo cockles with sherry vinaigrette (€8.50). It’s tart and refreshing, and, again, superbly simple. The daily specials board at Fish Shop seems to be where customers can push the boat out when it comes to trying new seafood. ‘The demand among consumers is definitely increasing and any time we put anything different on the menu people are always game to try it – we sold out of an octopus special in an hour one Saturday. We thought we’d be eating octopus for our own dinner!’
There isn’t any dessert when we visit but Peter promises us they’re working on it. ‘I’m thinking crumble for dessert,’ he tells us as he clears off our table. ‘I’ve been testing a few recipes but I just haven’t quite got it right yet.’ Sounds like the same attention to detail, and taking the time to get a simple idea just right, that Peter and J have applied elsewhere at Fish Shop is at work here. I really respect that. I have no problem waiting for dessert if it’s going to be spot on when it arrives.
Our bill, which includes a pretty plate of preserved baby vegetables (€3.50), jars of excellently executed homemade tartare sauce (€1.50) and lemon mayo (€1), a glass of sweet Riesling (€5.50) and a San Pellegrino sparkling orange (€2) comes to €54.50.
So what of the idea that Irish people just don’t eat that much fish? Fish Shop don’t take reservations; you’re encouraged to swing by and, if there isn’t a table free, head to Ryan’s next door or Dice Bar across the road until they call you for your seat. Both times I visited, there was a queue at the door of fish enthusiasts eager to join the waiting list. ‘People are really clued in now and knowledgeable about food, but I think the main issue around Irish people eating fish is the availability of really good fresh fish and seafood to retail customers. If you decide that you want to have fish for your dinner, it is a bit mad that people feel that they have to drive to Howth. The redevelopment of the Dublin Markets off Capel Street will hopefully involve a really good fish stall!’ Until that time, Fish Shop has us covered.
6 Queen Street, Dublin 7
(no phone number listed)
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Mark Duggan