There are some restaurants that qualify for “national treasure” status, and Cavistons sits cosily in this milieu, with its own backstory of a fishmongers that was bought for £300 in 1948, over a number of pints, and passed down through the family.
Peter Caviston, the Panama hat-sporting fishmonger who transformed this small business in Glasthule into a food emporium and opened a simple fish restaurant in 1996, probably merits his very own hall of fame. Apart from ensuring that the folk in this south Co Dublin village are well fed, he keeps the pulse beating, with celebrations for Bloomsday, the arrival of Kelly’s native oysters in September, and an all-round bonhomie that has attracted A-listers to his restaurant over the years.
The restaurant, now managed by his sons Mark and David, has moved a few doors down the road, with two distinct offerings: a formal restaurant at street level and a more casual space up a smart flight of wooden stairs. A few regulars are chatting at the long, convivial bar upstairs as we arrive for a 5.30pm booking on a Saturday evening.
It is a truly handsome room that plays to all of its structural strengths, flooded with light from large windows at each end. Bare brickwork combines with whitewashed walls; dotted with paintings and shelves with lush green plants and rows of wine bottles. The fit-out is luxe, with smart oak tables, banquettes, and two very covetable tables with a sea view at the back end of the room which would be perfect for a larger party.
A menu with a seafood platter – price on inquiry – and bouillabaisse is speaking my kind of language, although in essence this is designed to be a small-plates operation. Alison Tierney, who previously worked in Dax, is the chef downstairs, and there is a smaller kitchen upstairs to cater for the more casual end of things.
I should, of course, know by now that despite assurances, small plates invariably land at the same time; and after quite a wait, 40 minutes to be exact, an avalanche of dishes besieges our table – every single thing we ordered, forcing us to eat backwards, from hot to cold.
We start with the mixed shellfish bouillabaisse (€16). At the price, clearly it is going to be a small portion, and I am not expecting the Marseilles original; but I was looking forward to the whole ritual of dabbing croutons with rouille and grated cheese and popping them into the bowl. It’s a simpler affair, with four mussels, three clams and a few chunks of white fish in a wide shallow dish. A generous blob of rouille sits in the soup. It is very tasty, with soup that is more tomato than shellfish based, and only the slightest hint of fennel.
Our other hot dish, charred organic cabbage (€7.50), is a very clever take on a Caesar salad. The cabbage has been cooked slowly to allow a sweetness to develop as it softens, and the anchovies and dusting of grated cheese make this a lovely dish.
Moving to the smaller dishes, we have organic salmon pastrami, four cubes of crispy potato topped with lightly dried smoked salmon and crème fraîche (€8), the sort of snack that would have been nice to have had at the beginning of the meal while we sipped a crisp glass of Quinta Soalheiro Allo (€37 a bottle), a Portuguese Alvarinho and Loureiro blend.
The hake ceviche on a pico de gallo style salsa with tortilla chips (€11) has a mild creamy cure, and could perhaps benefit from a splash of lime and chilli to add a bit of zing. The smoked mackerel pate (€7), topped with some trout roe and served with brown bread, is tasty.
There is just one choice for dessert, so we finish with brownie bites (€6), chocolatey chunks that are closer to ganache, with a very good caramel dipping sauce. They are rich, and most definitely for sharing.
Caviston’s Seabar is the sort of casual restaurant that will no doubt be very popular in this neighbourhood. It is early days when I visit, and I imagine that much of the glitches around service from that compact upstairs kitchen have since been sorted. It is a really great room, as suitable for a table for two as it is for a group. Just be sure to stagger the ordering of your dishes, so that you have the best possible experience.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €92.50
THE VERDICT: A stunning room for a casual bite
Music: Background and unobtrusive
Food provenance: Cavistons fish and meat, Beechlawn Organics, The Village Dairy, Ballymakenny Farm
Vegetarian options: Limited, roast and creamed celeriac with preserved mushrooms; mezze plate with pickled and roast vegetables, hummus, and wild rocket pesto
Wheelchair access: The Seabar menu may be served downstairs, where the room is accessible, with an accessible toilet