Ultra fresh fish with a sea view
West Pier, Howth, Dublin 13
What’s the story?
For such a picturesque coastal village, Howth has always suffered from a surplus of mediocre eateries, and we feel for tourists in particular trying to navigate the deluge of similar looking restaurants along the west pier, searching for the one that's going to live up to their Irish seafood dreams.
King Sitric is the place to go for a blow out, and Aqua and Deep, also in the fine dining category, seem to have a loyal (if instagram deficient) following, but when you want something a bit more casual it can be a struggle to find something that doesn't disappoint. Octopussy's has always been talked about by those in the trade as the one to head for, and we've been impressed in the past, so we thought a sunny day in June was a good time to give it another once over.
Where’s good for a drink beforehand?
The Bloody Stream around the corner is great for a pint and has a sizeable outdoor terrace at the front if it's warm enough to sit outside. We quite like Wrights Findlatertoo, especially in Winter when the fire's on and it feels like a cosy respite from the harsh Howth winds. If you're up for a ten minute walk, we'd recommend walking up to The Abbey Tavern, one of Ireland's oldest pubs, which dates in some form to the 16th century.
What’s the room like?
Cosy. There are high tables and a couple of snugs inside, as well as counter dining at the window, but on a sunny day, the in demand seats are at the five outside tables. Whether outside or inside you should probably prepare for a wait, but food comes fast, so even though we were initially told it would be 40 minutes to get seated, it ended up taking only 10. Wherever you are you're likely to be sharing a table with strangers, so it's not the place to go for privacy and intimate conversation, but good if you like making new friends. Mercifully there is no smoking allowed at the tables outside, so you can enjoy your seafood in the sunshine without a side of cigarettes.
What's good to eat?
The shellfish platter is the must-order item, and great value at €19 for one, or €30 for two. The mussels in a cream and white wine sauce are genuinely some of the best we've had in Dublin, and the crab claws and Dublin Bay prawns taste like they were caught that morning. Gambas were fried with what tasted like paprika, and it's worth sucking the shells as that's where half the flavour is. On the platter for one you get three each of the Dublin Bay Prawns and crab claws, four gambas, a bowl of mussels and brown bread, so that alone would be enough to sate a non-greedy eater.
If you're into oysters, the Carlingford served with lemon and tobasco are reliably good, as is the dressed crab, which comes on brown bread, and is a perfect example of something so simple being so delicious.
If you feel like something deep-fried, calamari and scampi are both excellent, coming in light, crisp batters, rather than the ones that have the batter to fish ratio way off. We haven't had the lobster but we'd put money on that being great too. Sides don't overly excite, but the focus here is on fish and we've found in the past that they end up being superflous (with the exception of chips, obvs).
We also tried a special of prawn and chorizo salad, with chilli pecorino cheese which just didn't work. The chorizo overwhelmed everything else and the cheese was rubbery. If that's all we'd had we would have run for the hills of Howth, but luckily it was just a blip in an otherwise excellent meal.
What about the drinks?
A serviceable if unexciting wine list with a large selection by the glass, and no other alcohol is served, so prepare any beer/spirits drinkers in advance. We've had a few dud glasses in here, but you'll be safe with Italian Verdicchio for white, and we spotted an open bottle of Viña Illusion's brilliant Rioja Joven as we were leaving, which we hadn't spotted on the menu. Glassware is awful, but you'll just have to get over it.
And the service?
Something that again has been mixed in the past, but on this occasional couldn't be faulted. Both of our servers were completely welcoming and helpful, making recommendations and having the chats. To be as rushed off their feet as they were and still come off that relaxed and friendly is no mean feat, so credit where it's due.
The best place in Howth for ultra fresh seafood in a casual setting, and if you can bag an outside table on a sunny day you'll be beaming (and possibly sunburnt) for days. We might not choose it for a special occasion when we want all the good wine, but after a walk on Howth Head or when we just want to be reminded about why Irish seafood is so fantastic, there are few places we'd rather be.
Octopussy's Seafood Tapas Bar
7-8 West Pier, Howth, Co. Dublin