I have been to Howth on many occasions, all enjouable. For some reason, though, I have never ventured out along the West Pier. Not the handsomest stretch of seafront, apparently – all ship chandlers, fish merchants, auction halls and ice plants – but according to the friend I am meeting, if it’s proper seafood you’re after, the West Pier is where it’s at.
It’s a chilly enough day when a Dart is boarded from the city, but by the time Howth Junction is reached, the day has deteriorated into that horrible Irish weather that makes you want to throw off your clothes, throw on your jammies and head straight back to bed. A ferocious gale was busy dumping most of the Irish sea directly over the West Pier. And as foamy spray crowned the angry waves, I swim, sorry, walk down a windswept pier, past a veritable bounty of eye-catching seafood eateries.
Octopussy’s Seafood Tapas restaurant is a small premises, with lots of big windows and high stools to take in an unexpectedly pleasant view. It is the kind of easy-going seafoody place you’ll find all along the Med and the sunny US coasts.
As it’s a laid back tapas bar, the food will arrive as it is cooked. My friend and I both kick off with a wonderful seafood chowder that warms the cockles of our hearts. Smoky white fish, the freshest prawns and crab, a zing of pancetta and smoky bacon, plus a doorstep sized slice of toasty home-baked bread. We’re talking immense bowls of creamy stew, so heavenly thick you could eat it with a fork. This is a classic dish of the highest standards.
Next up are crab claw so big and chunky and so outstandingly fresh, they are nipping at our fingers. Lolling in a simmering pool of lemon and garlic butter, they are crying out to be devoured. There there is a pile of mussels cooked in a herby liquor of white wine, shallots, cream and yet more garlic. When they are as fresh as these little beauties, mussels on the shell are one of finest seafood experiences you can have. We shovel them down and sigh with pleasure. I would battle a storm any day of the week to sample this kind of seafood.
There is noting on this menu that stands out of the ordinary. But what makes this place special is the quality of the fish and the bombardment of gorgeous flavours. Restaurants often fall short when it comes to fish course and it’s not always because of poor-quality fish. Cooking it is never easy, yet these guys have it nailed.
By Alan Kelly, Sunday World Magazine+