Orla Murphy reviews Fishbone restaurant in Clontarf - a good family option for those looking for a fishy treat
A family meal that doesn’t involve pre-booking high chairs, packing in colouring books and ipads and pre-approval of the kids’ menu is a rare thing in the Murphy household these days. But a recent Thursday evening found five out of six original members of our clan negotiating parking in the busy suburbs surrounding Clontarf’s seafood restaurant, Fishbone. What is even more rare, is finding a restaurant that ticks all the boxes for all members.
Having an eclectic seafood menu got the first tick; decent prices got the second. The two-storey restaurant is what you might call ‘cosy’, with low ceilings and rustic décor with a Mediterranean feel. Between the narrow room, overhead music and almost-full restaurant, there were grumblings of bad acoustics, with some struggling to partake in conversation more than others. To be fair, they were a little on the harsh side. No tick.
The seafood-driven menu kept us quiet for a while anyway, with plenty of classics and some more inventive options available. A sea-free and vegetarian section was available for those so inclined, and a decent wine list was complemented by several interesting choices for the non-drinker, such as the sparkling elderflower (€2.50), which was refreshing albeit slightly more ‘lemony’ than ‘elderflowery’. As the designated driver, I missed out on a very drinkable bottle of Badajo Verdejo (€30) with good mineral notes, a wonderful freshness and saline finish that seemed right at home in a seafood restaurant.
The special starter of calamari with a sriracha mayo dip (€9) hit the spot – the batter on the squid rings was crispy and light while the spicy hit from the mayo kept on giving. They disappeared fast. The piping hot crab claws from Lambay Island (€14) were slower to go, simply because of their finger-burning nature, but they too were as they should be, sitting in a garlic, chilli and spring onion oil which was moped up by with two slices of crispy sourdough. A generous portion of vegetable tempura (€6) came with two delicious sauces – one, more of that lovely spicy mayo, the other, an addictive soy-based Asian sauce that cut through the light batter encasing a selection of onion, cauliflower and courgette. While four of us shared out these three starters, the patriarch at the end of the table was enjoying Fishbone’s seafood chowder (€8) to himself. The silence said it all. Generously portioned with prawns, mussels, salmon and a white fish, the chowder was the right side of creamy without being too heavy. It got a ‘very good’. To be clear, this is extremely positive praise; the next best thing being ‘tasty’. None of us are sure what happens after that.
Fishbone is one of those restaurants that lists all its calories on the menu – some would welcome this but my family seem to prescribe to a more ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach while dining out. Still, despite being listed as ‘healthy’, it seemed like no sacrifice to order the Korean-style tacos, in this case served with monkfish. In place of crispy tortillas, fresh cos lettuce leaves were bursting with a sesame sushi rice, diced kimchi and avocado along with a mango salsa and more of that sweet and salty Asian sauce on the side. Although tricky to eat, the ingredients were fresh and well balanced. A portion of twice-cooked chips were served on the side, dismissing any notions of piety and offering excellent value for €16. In contrast, the Howth lobster and crayfish brioche roll (€16) with chips was anything but virtuous. While the flavours were excellent, a tad more seafood in the mix would have elevated this luxurious dish. Much like the sauces, the sides stood out. The harissa potatoes, in particular, had many fans, with those deep Middle Eastern spices proving addictive. The corn and fennel slaw was mild and creamy – I would have preferred a bit more fennel, but I was in a minority in that regard.
The dessert menu was a nod to the classics – the sticky toffee pudding’s (€6.50) softness was offset by the addition of some crunchy nuts, served with a sticky caramel sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The warm chocolate brownie (€6.50) won it for me though, topped with a good vanilla ice-cream and a delicious raspberry coulis. Tick and tick.
While the service was warm and relaxed, it bordered on slow, but then I am impatient without a glass of wine in front of me. Acoustics aside, Fishbone won us over for the most part, and their child-friendly policy (kids eat free every Monday from 5pm-7pm) may see us return on a grander scale.
We loved: the selection of seafood and the harissa potatoes
We spent: €180 on one bottle of wine, one mineral, four starters, five mains, two desserts and a coffee
324 Clontarf Road, Clontarf, Dublin 3.
www.fishbone.ie; Tel: +353 (0)1 536 9066
Open: seven days a week. Lunch Thurs – Sun; Dinner Mon – Sunday