It is officially that time of year – the ‘grand stretch’ is kicking in and the dreary months standing between us and summer are quickly evaporating. Soaking up those extra post work hours of sunshine (read: lack of rain) becomes imperative and treating ourselves midweek becomes irresistible.
Nothing says summer in the city like Taste of Dublin, and my enduring memory of last year’s festival was sitting in the sun devouring more Foie Gras Choux Buns than I care to admit to, served up by the Urchin crew from their bullet silver retro food truck.
Keen to recreate this vibe and fend off the midweek slump on a less than balmy Wednesday evening, Sarah and I decided to sail away from the office with a trip to Urchin, in the heart of the city.
Descending the steps to the basement space beneath seafood hub the Cliff Townhouse, Urchin greets us warmly with a decor which feels like the Little Mermaid meets Art Deco nautical – like a jazz rendition of Sebastian the crab’s Under the Sea – uber Instagrammable, stylish and eye-catching.
While spring’s chill made parking ourselves in the kitchy and colourful outdoor terrace a little premature, I can definitely see myself sipping a Pornstar Express here when the temperatures eventually climb into double digits. Suits, girl gangs and even those with their heads stuck in a laptop lined the dimly lit bar area and a chilled out soundtrack made the prospect of a quick cocktail and nibbles sail away quickly as we settled in to our high stools.
We came hungry and I wasn’t sure if a couple of tapas would be enough, which is really just a lie to cover up the fact that I couldn’t narrow my choices from the tempting menu down to any less than five dishes. My dining companion concurred and we perused our choices after ordering cocktails to whet the appetite.
Although tempted to fully embrace the beachy vibes with a Margarita-like Mezcal and agave creation called Last Indos, an inventive whiskey cocktail, Nightcall(€13.50), called my name. Described as Sour and Spectacular (not unlike myself after a couple of bourbons) this coupe of creative genius saw Woodford Reserve meet Micíl Potion in a mouth-watering marriage with lime, charcoal and a frothy egg white halo. Topped with a quail’s egg shell, this was quite simply smashing.
Across the table, a less potent tiki style tipple, Starchaser(€13), was only missing a decorative umbrella and delivered a fitting dose of tropicana with Bacardi, Orgeat orange blossom syrup and hibiscus soda.
On the food front, a recent foodie trip to Madrid, during which I had the terrible task of tasting practically every traditional Spanish delicacy the capital had to offer, had me worried that Urchin’s tapas list of simple classics like Gambas a la Plancha and Grilled Octopus would fail to measure up.
Bellota, warmed slightly making its yellowed fatty marbling slightly oozy sat atop piquant charred Padron Peppers for our first taste of what Urchin’s kitchen has to offer and I could easily have commandeered the entire plateful for myself. Simple, flavourful and the ideal companion for a cocktail, these didn’t last long.
Our next dish trickled out of the kitchen soon after and proved that you have to be ok with getting messy, even on the beautiful marble tabletops – the aforementioned classic Gambas a la Plancha. Dishes like this have an extremely narrow margin for error – a minute too long on the grill you end up with a Jane Fonda worthy jaw workout and little else to be pleased about.
These, thankfully, were the opposite, succulent, sweet and well worth getting your hands dirty to decimate – off with their heads was never uttered with such glee. Unapologetically garlicky and expertly executed, even an ample portion of half a dozen beauties didn’t feel like enough.
On the veggie front, halved Tempura Artichokes, hearts and all, were coated in a light-as-air crisp batter, meaning the crunchy fried bite felt indulgent but not greasy, the common pitfall of anything subject to the fritto misto treatment. Served yet more garlic (a positive, company be damned) in the form of a glossy barigoule emulsion, sharing again felt like a chore despite the amount of dishes we had ordered.
We’re all well accustomed to the rubber rings many a tapas joint passes off as calamari here in Ireland, but in Urchin the offering is simply Grilled Octopus, served in traditional Galician fashion atop boiled potato slices and dusted liberally with sweet and smokey paprika.
My dining companion wasn’t convinced on first sight, but on first bite she was well and truly converted. Juicy and meltingly tender, I could nearly have cut the strips with a fork – which is more than I can say for the many of the examples of Pulpo Gallega I tasted in celebrated tapas bars of Madrid. This brought me right back there, to the creme de la creme of the Spanish capital – no mean feat.
Finally, we couldn’t leave without sampling the namesake dish, a delicacy which divides opinion regularly. My most recent memory of Urchin was a positive one indeed, just off the cobbled streets off San Sebastian. Just off the cobbled paths leading to St. Stephen’s Green, silky hollandaise enrobed urchin was just as memorable as the Donostia classic.
Silky, like egg yolk caviar, this opulent egg cup impossible to resist diving straight into with a teaspoon and every curve was scraped to ensure none was left behind. This, not a crab claw or lobster tail, felt like pure seafood luxury.
Settling a bill of €68 for five dishes and two cocktails, we agreed that a first visit to Urchin definitely wouldn’t be the last – I certainly left craving more from this little hideaway – a treasure trove of deliciousness waiting for you to dive in and enjoy.
Combined with exceptionally warm service, Urchin’s cool as a summer’s breeze atmosphere, beautifully crafted, creative cocktails and genuinely authentic tapas selection have made it an automatic addition to my list of loves in the city.
22 St. Stephen’s Green
T: (01) 678-9967
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show or RTE Today. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me on my pursuit of deliciousness.