‘Thank you for dining with us!” say the capital letters on the receipt from Howth restaurant Aqua. And boy have we dined. We are fed to the eyeballs. To the point where I wonder if we could summon the chair lift from the bottom of the curved stairs to glide us down from the glass box overlooking the sea. The meal featured so much butter it would be no surprise if it made its way out through our pores in a golden glisten.
There are two nods to restaurant trends in Aqua, which sits in what used to be Howth Yacht Club at the end of the west pier. The first is the absence of table linens. The mirror polished wooden tables are bare. The second is the freshness of the vegetables. Tonight they're mustardy salad leaves, which come from the kitchen garden, an allotment on Howth Hill. Everything else is so proudly old school it's more old college, on a tipping point towards trendy. "Hipsters would pay a lot for that ceiling," Juliana remarks. It's a prop straight out of Dr No like a huge inverted egg box for square eggs.
The true star here is the room, which gives you so much sea view you feel like you’re on a cruise ship that’s just docked at the pier. It’s got a floor like a ship’s deck with glossy pale timbers and silver and purple velvet curtains (which match the chair upholstery) hanging from a velvet covered pelmet. The Scandi-style lights just add to the look and beyond all that are acres of glass and sea. On the water below there are serious-looking sailing teams motoring back into the harbour. The sun is sinking slowly into the drink.
We kick off with some great sourdough bread, pillowy warm and served with an obviously hand-chopped pesto and the first of the butter rush. So far so great, but then a steamed half lobster is disappointingly cold. When you read steamed on the menu you think hot rather than steamed a while ago and then put into the fridge before being taken out and served. It comes with those fresh leaves and a finely chopped mango and pineapple salsa.
Across the table Castletownbere crab claws are proving crab can trump lobster for flavour and texture, especially served warm. These are thick, soft, thumb-size wedges of sweet crab meat drenched in herb butter and with more of that garden salad.
There’s a medium sized Howth dover sole. They come in three sizes and they were all out of the small. It’s a great piece of fish with a cartoon skeleton that lifts out whole from the buttery fishy innards.
I have a good piece of skin-on hake sitting on a sauce from the school of cheffing that time forgot. There are more of those luscious crab claws on top of my hake; but the sauce! Oh my the sauce. It’s a brandy bisque reduced past the point of irony to a full on, toque-wearing, moustache-twirling school of French fish cookery, such a chest-thumping piece of cooking it’s like a brass band at a gathering of a silent order. And it’s all just a little too much for the bang up to date, gorgeously fresh fish.
There are great butter-glistening new potatoes, and mangetouts in which the peas have swollen to full-on pea size but the pods are still sweet, helped along by another light slick of butter.
A textbook rendition of rhubarb crumble (always a favourite) and some good ice cream round off a meal that was not cheap. It feels like a dinner that’s been sponsored by Kerrygold, we agree, and that’s not necessarily an insult.
Aqua seems to be set in its ways, as consistent and unchanging as its spectacular sea view. Its website proudly says “the atmosphere has never changed” in its 15- year history. It shows an admirable salty determination, proof that the sun hasn’t set on this kind of restaurant just yet.
Dinner for two with sparkling water, coffee and tea came to €122.70
THE VERDICT: 7/10
Dublin’s best dining room view, good fish and great veg
Aqua, 1 West Pier, Howth, Dublin 13 tel: 01-832 0690 Facilities: Fine Music: None the night we were there Food provenance: The Aqua Garden for salads and “Irish origin” beef, lamb and chicken Wheelchair access: Yes(via chair lift) Vegetarian options: Limited
My friend Sarah Kennedy has two new babies in recent months, one bouncing boy and the other a new cafe in Dublin's Clontarf. Now that she is one of us she's thinking about stressed parents in school holidays. So for the rest of this month kids eat free at lunchtime at Kennedy's Clontarf. But before you screech up with a carload of hungry kids and drop them at the door, every free child has to be with an adult eating a (paid-for) lunch. That adult could be a grandparent, minder or parent. The kids options, which kick off with carrots and colouring, include things like swiss cheese melted on ciabatta or house-made pesto on corkscrew pasta. Drinks and desserts are extra.
Kennedy’s Foodstore 196 Clontarf Road, Dublin 3, 01-8186824