Thursday was a searingly hot day in Dublin and, even come evening time, there was little respite from the heat in the city center. Sun-warmed crowds pooled outside bars and restaurants, Mediterranean-style. It was not an evening to be indoors so, when the Boyfriend and I arrived for a 7.30pm booking at Grafton Street fish restaurant Mackerel and spotted seats outside on the narrow balcony, we grabbed them as soon as we could hot-foot across the room.
Mackerel is located upstairs in the old Bewley’s Café premises – now taken over by another branch of the becoming-ubiquitous Café Bar Deli – and it keeps to the dark-wood Bewley’s template with smart green marble tables. The tiny outdoors area had just enough space for side-by-side seating on low stools, with a simple wooden shelf, just wide enough to hold the plates, as a table. But the main draw, apart from the light, refreshing breeze, was being able to almost invisibly observe the bustle of a busy Grafton Street.
A selection of good bread – slices of tomato and fennel, a dense brown bread and some seed and fruit loaf – arrived with the menus; a just-printed page of that day’s catch and a regular menu of starters, desserts, cocktails and coffees. The Boyfriend was in fish-heaven, deliberating over sole, cod, organic salmon and John Dory. Eventually he decided on a Grilled Fillet of Plaice with Leek Sauce while I went for Grilled Whole Mackerel with a Chorizo Crust. A glass of crisp Manzanilla La Gitana with a bowl of plain olives served as a starter and then onwards to the fish end of thing.
One small problem: I had never had mackerel before and, minutes after my lovingly prepared piscine pal arrived in front of me, discovered that it wasn’t really my thing. Fortunately, it was much more to the taste of the (long-suffering) Boyfriend so we swapped plates, he to deal with the small bones and rich flesh of the mackerel while I discovered that delicate plaice, and particularly its creamy accompanying sauce, more agreeable. A dish of vegetables – red onions, cherry tomatoes and potatoes, all roasted and served with some buttered new potatoes and deliciously crunchy green beans – and some extra bread served to mop up the juices. We were less adventurous on the wine side of things, choosing a French Sauvignon Blanc (Le Clou Cotes Du Duras, 2004) which was pleasant although nothing special.
Although it was a light meal, the wine and the heat kept us from ordering any deserts, despite the Boyfriend dallying over the menu and seriously considering their Chocolate Fudge Cake. I let him think while I trekked down two flights of stairs to the basement bathrooms which, annoyingly, had a woman sitting outside to direct customers to the appropriate area (what? Signs aren’t enough any more?) with a tip jar placed prominently before her. This was unnecessary and annoying. There are many pubs around Dublin that I refuse to enter because of similar guardians and I wouldn’t like to have to add Mackerel to that list, especially as my espresso was an impeccable example of its kind and our eventual bill came to a very affordable €69.20. Fantastic fish – although I wouldn’t go for the eponymous choice next time – the perfect table and great service. Now, if they could just sort out the toilet situation…
€69.20 paid for a dish of olives, glass of sherry, two main courses, a bottle of wine and one expresso. Mackerel is on the first floor of Bewley’s at 78 Grafton Street, Dublin 2. Phone: 01-6727719.