When it comes to the topic of death row meals, I’m fairly certain I know what my last hurrah would be – a treasure trove of Irish seafood. Throw in some kind of Burgundian beauty to match and I’ll be half way to heaven before the devil even knows I’m dead.
As someone who has sampled some of the finest Afternoon Tea offerings across the country, I was halfway to St Stephen’s Green before the boss even knew I was gone the second I heard that the Cliff Townhouse was offering a seafood lovers’ dream high tea.
Chef Sean Smith is ex-Bentley’s by Richard Corrigan, London’s premier oyster bar and as Head Chef in this prestigious seafood Mecca, he honed his trade, bringing back unrivalled expertise to his perfect Dublin home in Cliff Townhouse.
Sitting proudly in the redbrick Georgian row overlooking leafy St. Stephen’s Green, Cliff Townhouse exudes opulence the moment you are escorted into the luxuriously nautical dining room. Navy leather bucket seats, marble and an oyster bar proudly displaying delights from Carlingford to Galway immediately evoke the feeling that we’re in for a serious treat.
While I’m all for the shack-style, casual offering places like Klaw offer, there is something inherently luxurious about shellfish and sometimes, that is worthy of a celebration in itself. With sunshine streaming in the bay windows, it feels like the perfect day to sail away with a seafood feast, and Cliff’s take on the ritual of high tea, Afternoon Sea, is designed to allow you to do just that.
Listen. Nobody, but nobody, enjoys cucumber sandwiches. I’m all for any ritual which involves lounging for hours on end grazing on a tower of treats, but dear god, there are only so many scones one can feasibly extract joy from. In this case, the carb kick off is in the form of mini loaves of Guinness Bread and Seaweed Brioche, both still warm from the oven.
I don’t know about you, but the subtle maltiness of Guinness Brown Bread, to me, is far more tempting than a cloyingly sweet scone topped with jam. Slathered in butter, some of the fluffiest brioche I have had the pleasure of tasting was flecked with dillisk, to introduce the flavours of the sea and whet the appetite.
In lieu of a steaming cup of tea, an espresso cup of thick and luscious Lobster Bisque is our first tipple of choice, having extracted every last bit of flavour from the abundance of lobster shells amassed in the seafood-centric kitchen. Zero waste never tasted so decadent. On to our next sip – why have tea, we ponder, when you could have Chablis?
What came next, not one shared but two ample silver towers appeared before us, laden down with treasures from the deep at every tier. Alongside them, two steaming pots of Kelly’s Wild Mussels fill the air with the sweet aroma of shallot, white wine and garlic, and all feels right in the world.
Yet more delicious questions demanded an answer. Egg mayo? I’ll take freshly picked and subtly sweet crabmeat bound in lemon aoili, thank you very much. And why would I settle for a crustless sliced pan finger sandwich when I could have my smoked salmon draped over more of that Guinness bread?
Moving from the top tier downwards, Crab Claws were quickly reduced to bare black pincers and perfectly poached Prawns made for the perfect dipping vessel for a pot of cognac-spiked Marie Rose and a tart lemon aioli. I cannot imagine enjoying any baked good as much as I enjoyed lingering over these delectable dippers.
Pots of pure delight invited us to dive in next, with dainty buttery Potted Shrimp and silky Monkfish Brandade requiring thorough spoon excavation. Alongside, delicate Flaggy Shore oysters sang of the subtle sweetness the finest Irish shellfish offers and both mignonette and tabasco were wholly unnecessary as these petite Clare pearls shine all on their own.
The piéce de resistance, however, had to be the final tier of half an Irish lobster, more succulent and juicy than any I have had the pleasure of devouring in recent times – heaven in a half shell. Saving the best for last was well worth it in this case, as difficult as it was not to go straight for the prize.
Dessert, an entirely unnecessary addition to our experience, turned out to be a worthy extravagance, with a lip-smackingly zesty Lemon Brulée Tart stealing the show. Impossibly thin and buttery shortcrust, the pleasing crack of a sugar crown and silken baked custard was the most fitting end to an afternoon of sheer indulgence.
Afternoon Tea can often come with an extortionate price tag for the flour-laden and bland bites you are presented with, but there is no difficulty accounting for the €38 a head price tag for Afternoon Sea. A seafood tower of this quality would easily set you back €100 elsewhere, with far less emphasis on sourcing and expert execution.
I can think of no occasion which wouldn’t be improved by the addition of Afternoon Sea at Cliff Townhouse, and I’ll be busy making up excuses for my imminent return until one arises.
22 St Stephens Green
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY