Surf’n’turf, like many such vaguely vulgar conceits, originated in the USA. It’s believed that the first sighting was at the restaurant in the Seattle ‘Space Needle’ at the 1962 World’s Fair. American food authors Jane and Michael Stern in their ‘Encyclopaedia of Bad Taste’ decreed that the seafood and steak combo epitomizes culinary kitsch. The Sterns say the whole point of the dish is to allow a diner to maximise hedonistic extravagance by permitting him (and yes it is, restaurateurs tell me, largely ‘a boy thing’) to order the two most expensive items on the menu at one and the same time. The surf’n’turf fanatic, they reckon, is motivated not by any concern for taste or food aesthetics, but by a desire to put on a holy show of wealth.
Although I consider myself as big an aesthete as any when it comes to culinary matters I too have my vulgar side. Sometimes I poach scallops, lightly, in champagne just for the hell of it. So I made no apologies last night in Ouzos of Dalkey when I bagged the surf’n’turf before Sibella could put her order in.
In fairness, acquiring the surf’n’turf here did not involve massive financial outlay. It was on their menu as part of a €24.95 two-courser, grandiosely entitled ‘The Great Crab and Lobster Feast’, available Monday though Saturday from 4-7pm. As you’d expect at this price the surf content was not lobster, it was crab claws which, at least, were fresh, not frozen. The turf element was a char-grilled 10oz sirloin, to which I’ll return later. Lobster did feature large on the menu though: in the chowder; with flakes of crab in the creamy sauce that cuddled the steamed fresh mussels; in the wowser of a lobster and crab claw salad that Sibs picked for her main; and on its own, awaiting selection from the tank in the front window ready to be boiled or char-grilled. For this there was a supplement of €3 per 100g. Given that your average lobster would weigh in at around 700g this would add €21 to your dinner bill, probably still fair value.
If my ‘Shellfish Galore’ (Is there a half-baked gnome somewhere locked up in a garret, doomed to spend his days dreaming up naff titles for dishes?) was hugely satisfying, Sibella’s chowder, replete with lumps of lobster, crab claws and prime fish, was sensational. The liquid in the bowl, creamy and nicely seasoned, was without trace of flour or cornstarch. And, lest we forget, a commendation for the excellent bread, three varieties.
Sibs had the draw on me with the main course as well. The lobster chunks and the crab claws, this time pan-fried in a lime butter, made a reappearance, accompanied by respectable mixed salad leaves, avocado, buffalo mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, the whole bathed in a dressing that leaned to the side of olive oil rather than vinegar. It looked good and tasted better.
Brought to table, the surf’n’turf seemed promising, a 10oz slab or sirloin with half a dozen of the aforementioned crab claws perched atop and a dessert spoon’s worth of crisp fried onion rings. A little salad for garnish and a side of chips. There was a choice of accompaniments from wild mushroom sauce, peppercorn sauce and garlic butter. Alas the mushroom sauce, by the time it arrived at table, bore an unappetizing emulsified skin. The chips were soggy and sweet. The latter quality may not, it seems, be the fault of the restaurant. My food writing cohort, Ross Golden Bannon, ventured yesterday that sweet spuds are a phenomenon attributable to climate change. I know the return of blight is but I’m not sure I entirely believe him when it comes to sweetness. I’ve cooked, served and eaten chips made from 5 or 6 varieties in recent months, from waxy Pipers to flour ball Wonders and never once felt as much as a twinge of gingivitis.
But the biggest let-down was the steak. It bore the criss-cross marks of char-grilling (or do they paint the stripes on?). Personally, I like my steak slapped down hard on a red-hot pan. But that wasn’t the source of my quibble. Even cooked precisely as requested – “the rare side of medium rare”, the generous 10oz sirloin was bereft of any flavour. Under-hung? Maybe. Or was it perchance striploin, sirloin’s more pricey but bland, boring cousin? Strange, usually it’s the surfing side of the equation that lets this dish down.
The not overly lengthy wine list appears to be from a single source but in all honesty they’ve chosen well. We picked out a Viognier from Southern France, fair value at €24 and the apricot and walnut vibe, nicely restrained, supported all the fishy elements a treat.
Portions are generous, making it hard to face dessert. In the end we opted for some “Home-made, but not on the premises” ice cream. Flavours were vibrant, especially the strawberry, but the ice cream was not particularly well textured. Abundant ice-crystals are usually a mark of insufficient churning.
There’s plenty to like about Ouzos. It’s an honest sort of place where they work hard to give value and keep customers happy. Service was friendly and efficient; a tad over-effusive, for a crabby critic who’d had a hard day, but perhaps easy familiarity is what a neighbourhood restaurant is all about.
The damage: €82.90 ex-service for 2 starters, 2 mains, 3 scoops ice cream, 1 coffee, bottle of wine.
Verdict: Bright, clean, cheerful restaurant offering good fresh fish and shellfish at reasonable prices. Only order the steak if your tastebuds have gone walkabout. If there has to be background music it’s good to get ‘Astral Weeks’.
Ouzos, 22 Castle St., Dalkey, Co Dublin Te:01 285 1980