Good tapas venues are not something you will find in abundance in Dublin, with the exception of one or two go to Spanish hotspots. Even at that most are more classical of what you would expect to find in an authentic joint in Barcelona rather than one that is pushing the small plate boundaries. With one exception, from an inventive chef by the name of Matt Fuller, who some of you may know from his popular venue Boqueria which was based the hipster neighbourhood of Stoneybatter.
Fuller has plenty of experience of Spanish food having lived there for several years soaking up all the Mediterranean flair for creating exciting tapas, inspired by the stunning food market based in the heart of Las Ramblas in Barcelona La Boqueria, he returned to Ireland with a burning passion to recreate his own mini food mecca in Dublin. Fast forward to Feb 2017 and two years after establishing a critically acclaimed venue Fuller decided to take a gamble and relocate to a larger premises in the picturesque village of Howth.
Keeping the name Boqueria, Fuller and his team renovated a beautiful old building on Church Street, which previously housed an Italian pizza and pasta place called Pulcinellas Secret, unfortunately for Pulcinellas it was a too much of a secret and never really gained a loyal following. They say it’s easier to fish in troubled waters and judging by the fact we struggled to secure a weekend booking we’d hazard a guess that Fuller’s haul may prove a lot more fruitful.
Howth is a funny old spot to make work, thronged with tourists in the summer, winter can be a testing time for most venues along the harbour, however Boqueria is a little more off the beaten track, a short trek up the hill, so this is definitely a destination restaurant.
We arrived for an 8.30 booking and easily spotted the newly white-washed walls and splashes of jade coloured turquoise of Fuller’s new home. The colour scheme continues inside with washed beams and exposed brick acting as the perfect backdrop for the bold turquoise sea of chairs dotted throughout. Without doubt this is not only a very pretty space but also one with an abundance of character. Add to that the views of the coastline and you’ve suddenly got quite an atmospheric room.
The menu is broken into snacks or tapas or you can go for their Tasting Tapas Menu which at €34 per guest is very keenly priced. We always feel if a tasting menu is available go for it because it really gives you a flavour of what the chef can do and sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Dishes are priced from €8.95 to €16.00 so the tasting menu of seven tapas and a dessert seemed like a no brainer.
We sampled some simple salted almonds drizzled in delicious olive oil while we perused the short but well thought out wine list. One word of warning if you don’t like Spanish wine you may struggle as Boqueria only serve Spanish wine, which we have to admire as not many restaurants would take that chance. However that said the selection is excellent and more importantly very well priced which is refreshing to see but we would love to see two or three more by the glass options especially given the location. With bottles starting from €24.00 for a decent Altadena Tempranillo and most staying under €40 there will be something here for most palates, trust us.
Our first course is almost a bit of a signature dish by Fuller, Barrell Chips with roast garlic mayo and a spicy tomato sauce, all lined up uniformly, each little square of golden glory really ups the patatas bravas ante.
Up next was a light textured, buttery Leek Risotto, speckled with a deliciously sour quail escabeche, a popular tapas dish you may stumble upon in many of Barcelona’s most authentic bars, not the easiest of dishes to share but we managed to mop up every last morsel of rice between us.
Being nestled next to the seafood centre of Howth Harbour we were keen to try something fishy, so we were happy when our dish of Slow Cooked Hake arrived in quick succession. Classically Spanish served with some lemon oil and a tiny quenelle of broken potato.
If there were ever two ingredients that were made for each other it has to be Veal and a great big herby helping of gremolata. This dish was certainly more Italian influenced that Spanish, none the less Fuller managed to pull off a wonderfully well executed plate. Two tortellinis of tender veal took centre stage over a half moon of green simplicity, with just a few raindrops of truffle cream and sprinkling of reggiano to complete a flavour packed plate.
If you have yet to sample cheeses from Toons Bridge than Boqueria’s alternative to the overuse of goats cheese and beetroot in salads may spike your interest. Thinly sliced and highly addictive Artichoke Crisps formed a protective circle around a generous heap of Toons Bridge buffalo ricotta, simply dressed with some greens and pickled onion.
Our last dish of the evening was probably our favourite, four slices of perfectly pink Cured Duck Breast fanned out beneath a suet pudding, pickled mushrooms and some effervescent pink ginger, which we assume was pickled in beet juice to gain such a stunning hue, in a word – fan-bloody-tastic !
There is one other important dish included in the Tapas tasting menu – dessert with two simple choices to choose from Chocolate Mousse or the ominous sounding “Burger & Chips”, intrigued by the latter we placed our faith in restaurant manager Tara Brady and took a gamble. Out popped a sesame seed macaron for the bun; with lime jelly and strawberry for the filler with a chocolate mousse for the patty, shortbread biscuits “chips” and a sinfully good raspberry coulis for the ketchup. But the piece de resistance was the fun little egg of coconut milk and mango coulis to the side.
Our dessert really sums Boqueria up – fun, adventurous yet comforting all at the same time. Matt Fuller will no doubt continue to wow diners with his new and improved Boqueria, he now has the space and creative interior to match his exquisite dishes and we hope this will act as a culinary magnet to pull punters up the hill.
Dinner for two, with three glasses of wine came to a keenly priced €90.50
30 Church Street
T: 01 832 2932
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.