Fish and chips in the Docks

Great fish and seafood and views of Grand Canal Basin make an unbeatable combination

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Mourne Seafood Bar Dublin

M y son could smell seaweed the other morning even though we’re three miles from the sea. If the wind blows a certain way the Grand Canal tunnels Davy Jones into our neighbourhood. Follow your nose east and you reach that body of water that is the Grand Canal Basin.

That’s where I am tonight. And it’s a gorgeous evening to be sitting in a tower built on hubris. The Millennium Tower on Charlotte Quay was constructed in the 1990s by Zoe Developments. It marked the transformation of the district from dingy warehouses and canal rats to a new neighbourhood. Bono was reported to have viewed its £1.5m penthouse, then Dublin’s most expensive apartment.

Ocean Bar on its ground floor was all glass, steel and ambition, with Conrad Gallagher’s name briefly attached to the venture. It was the first restaurant in the area. Others followed, huddling on the chilly harbourside waiting for the lights to go up in the Grand Canal Theatre. But Ocean dwindled to a puddle and then evaporated. In 2008 the High Court heard that it had debts of €2m. Last year its publican owner Eoghan Breslin filed for bankruptcy in Britain.

A high nelly bike strapped to the railings by the road is the first sign of a new tenant in the Millennium Tower. My friend is waiting at the picnic tables outside, smiling at a cormorant in priestly black plumage who’s staring at the water for his dinner. “I was hoping that bird would stick around so you’d get a line out of it,” she says, wise to the ways of her dining companion.

Like the cormorant we are in search of things that come from the drink. The Belfast-based Mourne Seafood Bar opened its doors here around three weeks ago. My children visited at the weekend and had “the best fish fingers ever” for lunch while watching the wake boarders.

Inside there are no salt-crusted ropes or lobster pots. There’s a lot of shiny honey-pale pine. The only fishy touch is some tasteful wallpaper on a small wall and a pillar. The chairs at my table for two face the water. And the view is all you need. Gulls glide over the surface, which goes from rippling to still, depending on the wind. Stare long enough and you’ll see something jump in the water. Look away and the light will be doing something different next time you turn back. A runner might jog past with weights strapped to his arms while you tuck into a bowl of Tuscan fries. And oh those fries. They’re skin-on and fried golden and then dusted with tiny, diced black olives, parsley and Parmesan. As crowd pleasers go they are the Brian O’Driscolls of the chip world.

But first there are milky Donegal oysters in the shell teased into a Japanese dish with pickled ginger and cucumber and a wasabi-laced soy dipping sauce. A doll-size cast iron pan holds salt and chilli squid, a Paul Rankin dish from the days when the chef here, Andy Rea, was head chef in Rankin’s game-changing Roscoff restaurant and later Cayenne. The tubes of nubbly sliced squid tentacle have been gently floured and fried with chilli powder and sit on an Asian slaw with a sweet rice vinegar dressing. It’s a testament to friendship that I share this evenly.

Those Tuscan fries come with a whole seabass that eyes you from the plate. It’s simply how fish should be in restaurants, fresh as a morning dip. My half lobster and fries is a plate that smells like a Spanish holiday. Next time I’ll order it with the dressing on the side. I don’t want anything to get between me and lobster flesh. Claw crackers and a winkler are deployed to scavenge the last morsel.

Desserts aren’t cheap at €7 a pop and the best is the lemon mascarpone tart which is like the cream of a cow fed on lemons, with balsamic-macerated strawberries – a retro touch that works.

Andy Rea comes for a chat at the end and tells us about life on the houseboat nearby where he’s living with two other chefs. “They’ve made me captain, so that’s alright.” Next morning I see the post-dinner drinks and some more Tuscan fries for the husband, who joins us, never made it onto the bill. I didn’t need the free stuff. A waterside restaurant serving up great fish and seafood? They had me at hello.

Dinner for two with a bottle of Provençal rosé came to €106.