Caviston’s, that Sandycove institution, has now expanded its sphere of influence to Monkstown. To be pinpoint precise, to a location on the venerable dining strip alongside the funeral parlour. Maybe this influenced the new restaurant’s architect to shroud the interior in unremitting black, relieved only by large silver fish emblems hanging trophy-like on the walls . Modern, stark and somewhat sombre or retro in the style of a 60’s Soho whiff-of-brimstone coffee house, I couldn’t quite decide. Tables are packed quite tightly together and the high buzz of conversation renders the background music unnecessary. Our waitress, or at least our first waitress for we were served by no less than three during dinner, had only joined the staff that day and it was from her that we learned of the demise of Vico at Dalkey, her previous place of work. Sad.
As might be expected, Caviston, as the new restaurant is named, plays to its strength by majoring on fish; varying the menu on a day-to-day basis to serve only what’s available and fresh, a noble aim. Confidence in the product on your plate is a great thing and I didn’t feel a qualm about ordering the chilli and thyme-dressed grilled squid knowing, as I did, that it would not be a breadcrumbed inner tube. Lady Cassils chose a Caesar salad, which surprised me no end. It proved substantial and was properly prepared with tasty London (cos or romaine or what you will) lettuce, not cosmetic iceberg. So far so good.
From a compact wine list I chose a bottle of Albarino, not the ubiquitous Martin Codax but a ????
which came with an endorsment from Robert Parker. At the first mouthful I could see why, it big, upfront and vibrant with a rounded and weighty mouthfeel, four-square in the Parker tradition. A bit brash maybe but a good foil for the squid and lobster, my main course choice, and better than drinking good Chablis too young, the list’s other main temptation, one to which I often succumb.
Before I chose the (half) lobster I asked about it’s antecedents. It came from Drogheda, came the message from the chef. Good. Recently in a Cape Town restaurant I swore, for the umpteenth time, never again to eat lobster, crayfish or prawns trawled up in tepid waters. Down The Cape they make great play of their crustaceans – “Caught in Mozambique and blast frozen immediately” the waiter boasts. Amazing for these shellfish have neither charm nor grace, taste nor texture. Unlike cold water crustaceans, which develop muscle tone by keeping moving in order to keep warm these denizens of the soft South laze around in the shallows reading pulp novels, all Ray Bans, factor 40 and flab. Caviston’s lobster, simply baked in garlic butter, was a worthy son of the Boyne, meaty, muscular and tasty. Only trouble was it was a wee lobster from The Wee County and I could have wolfed down two of them. Milady’s John Dory, offered up in sympatico fashion with ailoli and roasted garlic, was likewise a bit of a pygmy, though again, sweet and flavoursome. We gazed longingly, in unison, at a monster of a black sole on an adjoining table.
At some point I dropped a knife and it might have lain there for ever. Tired of waiting for a replacement I robbed one from the next table. The main courses came with boiled baby potatoes, probably Charlotte, generously anointed with butter and the only beg on offer, a green salad which herself found hard to swallow in the wake of the ginormous Caesar. I was tempted to say “Ate two?” but refrained. Anyhow, a little more effort needed here, we felt.
Desserts proved something of a yawn, a playsafe collection of everyone’s favourites – here a pot au chocolat, there a creme brulee. We ordered one of these, it was fine, plus an almond frangipane tart, another cliche. How this was garnished depended on which waitress you got. Ours had grapefruit but no cream, the pie not the waitress.
Towards the end of the meal live music kicked in – a gypsy jazz duo with a fiddler that managed to remind me of the worst aspects of Stephane Grappeli’s playing – aimless noodling around taking the place of improvisation on a theme. These were followed by a quartet of young folk-ish maidens, a sort of Irish Petra, Paula and Mary. Almost the best entertainment of the night was to be had from taking a trip to the bogs. The architect had cleverly managed to locate two urinals within a tight space. The guy in station two drew the short straw, any movement serving to switch on the more than averagely powerful hand-drier, very disconcerting this. He also had to wait until his partner in station one had finished before he could exit and even this involved a certain amount of intricate sideways shuffling. If a third guy had walked in we’d all still be in there!
The espresso was decent enough. All-in-all the meal as described cost e115, fair value. The quality of the fish was indisputable, which is why most people will go there. The service was friendly, if a little erratic. The decor was certainly arresting – her ladyship loved it. The atmosphere was pretty electric and many will enjoy the music, performed apparently on Fridays and Saturdays. Delft was good and modern, but the cutlery, a little rickety,did not add to the occasion. Minor quibbles apart, Caviston’s is unpretentious, honest and enjoyable, serves good fresh fish and it would not take much to lift it into the next echelon A sensible choice of vegetables and a little more imagination with the desserts would do the trick. Good start, Stephen and Mary, keep it up.
Caviston Restaurant Monkstown, 17 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin Tel: (01) 284 6012