A Dutch friend visited Ireland at the beginning of this summer and asked where she could try oysters in Temple Bar. If it had been the weekend, I would have happily sent her to The Temple Bar Food Market, where the Oyster Bar there serves superbly shucked native oysters on a Saturday. Mid-week though? I was stumped. I sent her further south to Fallon & Byrne and the Cliff Townhouse, but noted, not for the first time, the scarcity of informal and affordable seafood at the disposal of our visitors.
Less than a fortnight after her visit, however, and there’s a new seafood shack smack bang in the middle of Temple Bar bringing the bounty of the shore to the centre of our city. Niall Sabongi, proprietor of Rock Lobster and director of wholesale fish, crustacean and mollusc suppliers Sustainable Seafood Ireland (SSi), has brought his enthusiasm for local seafood to Klaw, a tiny 12 seater spot on Crown Alley.
‘We are an island nation and if Rock Lobster has helped to make fish and seafood dining more accessible and popular, we’re delighted,’ Sabongi tells me. ‘It’s really encouraging to see more seafood restaurants opening in the city; I love what Fish Shop are doing. We hope that Klaw will see people eating more fish and encourage other restaurants to buy and serve more local fish.’
A lobster roll is priced at €14, served in a sweet, lightly toasted brioche bun with a pleasing homemade pickle on the side. It’s positively bursting with plump, juicy lobster meat, coated in a mild Marie Rose style sauce laced with snippets of chives. I inhale it. The star of the show for me, however, is the ‘krab’ on toast (€10). Toasted rounds of bread spritzed with oil to give them extra crunch are the perfect bed for the sweet crabmeat, and it’s a simple yet thoughtful presentation of one of Ireland’s best ingredients. A crunch of diced cucumber adds texture and I flip out over the Old Bay seasoning (a mix of celery salt, paprika and pepper) that Sabongi encourages me to sprinkle over the crab. I enviously eye up my neighbouring diners’ substantial seafood platter (€35), which they’re washing down with Picpoul (€7 by the glass). It’s one of five wines available in the shack. Bloody Marys are also on offer.
I get a few freshly shucked Achill oysters, one that I enjoy ‘naked’ (€2 a pop), served in their birthday suits on ice. I top my oyster with Klaw’s house-made jalapeño vinegar, a very successful take on the traditional shallot red wine vinegar sauce, and knock it back. Though I appreciate the theatre of the torched oysters (€3 a shuck), wherein an oyster with a choice of smoky bacon or spinach and cheese toppings are blowtorched right in the middle of the shack, the torched smoky bacon doesn’t make my oyster experience richer. I think Sabongi is hoping these will be a gateway oyster to diners nervous about knocking them back in their raw state. I like how the oyster is merely warmed through rather than cooked, but I think this version is missing the moisture a sprinkling of molten cheese might bring.
The shack’s chalkboard walls functions as a shout out to Irish seafood, providing an insight into the richness of our seas to visitors and locals alike. September is native oyster season and Klaw are planning oyster masterclasses and tasting sessions to celebrate it. It makes me happy to think that tourists passing through Temple Bar could happen upon this little shack and get a taste of authentic Irish seafood, sourced and served with passion and care. My bill, which included a bottle of sparkling water (€2.20) and a chewy cookie sandwich filled with thick banoffee mix (€4), came to €25.20.
5A Crown Alley, Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Words: Aoife McElwain
Photos: Mark Duggan