Fishbone review: Almost the fish restaurant of my dreams
Once the restaurant settles down, Clontarf should have itself another good neighbourhood eatery
- 324 Clontarf Road
- (01) 536 9066
It’s the kind of September evening when the line between sea and sky looks like it’s been blended with a painter’s thumb. That seascape probably fades to wallpaper on the daily commute. But then the gods of the Clontarf Road gift you their epic roadworks. You are brought to a halt. And there it is, an extravagance of water, cloud and blue-tinged air.
Fishbone sits beside the roadworks almost directly opposite the wooden bridge to Bull Island. Tonight it is sardine tight with people. But they have no sardines, more of which later. I wonder has the contraflow netted them diners. Did these people have enough time to read the menu and book a table while waiting for the lights to change? An earlier phonecall produces the scrapings of the barrel sittings of 6pm or 9.30pm.
It’s probably not fair to judge a kitchen in a late sitting after it’s been flayed by the pent-up demand in Clontarf for fish suppers. So early it is.
Outside Fishbone is painted grey with a huge yellow fish up the middle. Open glass doors in the middle of the fish have a keg in front of them, presumably to stop people trying to walk through them to the tightly packed tables inside. The restaurant is a sister operation of the 13-year-old Bay restaurant, run by sisters Sinéad and Niamh Costello.
We are on stools at a high table near the kitchen where kitchen-generated heat is keeping things tropical. Later I spot the best tables, upstairs in a quieter room where the higher vantage point airbrushes out the traffic and just gives you the bay in all its beauty. Northsiders really do have the best views. Downstairs décor is cheery decorated tiles, lightbulbs that are bare but coloured like gobstoppers. A skylight above us has potted ferns and other plants lined up on all four sides.
The advantage of the early table is that we get to do the early catch, their version of the early bird menu and I’ve already decided I want the sardines. But no, they’re not on tonight. We can have the brill instead, we’re told which is disappointing. Was there a sardine run at lunchtime?
The dishes are crowd-pleasing fish staples, with a smattering of meat for the refuseniks. And lots of them work. A chowder is light and meaty with carrots, celery and leeks alongside juicy mussels, white fish I’m guessing is hake and smoked haddock. Although I’d prefer if the haddock wasn’t bright orange. The sourdough bread is good but not my idea of sourdough. It’s denser and has no trace of tang. Gambas prawns come in an oil layered with petals of garlic and a satisfyingly fiery chilli element. They are, my friend says, the best version of this dish he’s tasted.
My brill is pretty brill, the whole fish lightly dusted in flour, fried in butter and presented with a side bowl of harissa dressed baby potatoes. Monkfish and scampi bites have a good breadcrumb batter, but I don’t detect any dill in the batter, as promised in the menu, possibly because delicate fronds of dill are unlikely to withstand the full deep fat frying treatment. We love the chips, double-fried and worth the calorie load. Sea bream comes also on the bone with a bang-on chimichurri sauce, the herb-rich vinaigrette that gives the astringency the buttery fish needs. But what’s happening here? A “charred corn cob fennel salad” is mysterious for its lack of charred corn (there are just regular yellow kernels) and fennel, apart from one lone shard of the aniseedy bulb in a tangle of chopped white and red cabbage.
Sadly I get the duff dessert, the special of “strawberry cheesecake” a bland slab with raspberry coulis poured over it and a splodge of strawberry ice cream on top. It smacks of a clearing of the fridge dish rather than a dessert worth its €6.50 price tag. A sticky toffee pudding is miles better, studded with walnuts and a matcha crème brulee has just the right blend of creamy sugary egg to slight tea bitterness.
Is Fishbone the fish restaurant of my dreams? Nearly. They’re putting fresh fish on plates at a good price. But I leave with the impression that the shoal of eaters who have flowed through the doors have thrown the whole thing slightly off balance. Once they steady it Clontarf should have itself another good neighbourhood restaurant.
Dinner for three with a bottle of wine and an Americano came to €135.
FISHBONE, 324 Clontarf Road, Clontarf; Tel: 01-5369066
Facilities: Upstairs (apart from the wheelchair one) and nice
Wheelchair access: Yes
Music: Cheery pop and jazz classics
Food provenance: List of suppliers on the bottom of the menu
Vegetarian options: Limited
THE VERDICT: A promising seafront restaurant that should grow into itself.