Ivan’s restaurant is at the main road end of the West pier in Howth. The restaurant is a modern glass walled building that allows good views of the interior. Next door the food emporium has now been completely re-vamped. The shop has now become a very smart seafood emporium, nicely laid out and containing an oyster bar, a fresh fish counter, organic vegetables, wines and gourmet foods.
A good front of house staff is as important as a good kitchen, because the front of house sets the tone. Their job is to greet you, seat you and make your evening go as smoothly as possible. In Ivan’s you’re met by Niall Sabongi, who cut his teeth in his fathers eponymous restaurant, and more recently ran his own restaurant in Drogheda, before moving to Howth to act as GM of the whole operation.
We firstly visit the food emporium, and take a loo around the sections. There is a large queue at the fish counter, buying their fresh fish to take home, and free range pork from Gubbeen in Cork is available at the meat counter. Towards the back is the oyster bar and grill, where oysters are available fresh or cooked, along with a range of Spanish tapas and the option of a hand sliced portion of the best of Spanish ham – the Iberico Bellota. We decide to have some oysters and the Pinchos platter – a trio of Basque inspired bites – sitting at the bar, before going into the main restaurant for the rest of our meal.
Our half dozen Clarenbridge oysters (6 for €12.95) come with a raspberry vinaigrette, while the Pinchos (€6); grilled bread by three, with anchovies, thinly sliced prawns and jamon and parmesan respectively are a great combination and get us off to a flying start. We polish them off with a bottle of San Pellegrino, it’s Sunday and we’re up early tomorrow, and have to drag ourselves away before we order another half dozen crustaceans.
We’re shown to a table by the window, giving us views across the harbour. Howth is ridiculously busy, but Niall assures us this is business as usual on a Sunday. People come out to walk the pier, browse in the weekend market and have lunch. What a pity the south side of Dublin has no equivalent. Although thousands walk the pier in Dun Laoghaire every day, it doesn’t translate into browsing and eating. Anyway, musings aside, we look to the menu to continue our meal.
There is a choice of two seafood platters and six dishes in the Ivan’s grill selection, including a mixed seafood grill of Gambas, squid, scallops and swordfish, linguine Vongole with Palourde clams, and Cioppino, a traditional seafood stew. There is also the Market Seafood selection, which are the fresh fish dishes written on the blackboard and are what they have taken from the boats that landed their catch that day. We have a choice of hake, whole black sole, grilled lobster or stone bass. Each of these is cooked for you with a choice of sauces, and there is a daily special or roast turbot. After a bit f consideration, Deirdre has the whole black sole, grilled with a squeeze of lemon with some green beans and creamy mash, while I go with the special.
The black sole arrives on the bone, to be filleted at the table, and Deirdre’s ends up with four large chunky fillets of the fish, all perfectly cooked and delicious with just the lemon juice. My turbot comes in a papiette with clams, roasted onions and cherry tomatoes and the flavours are huge when I tear into it, eating the flesh straight from the paper parcel. Both of these dishes were excellent, but I think Dee got the star here; the black sole was simply great.
We couldn’t really face a dessert, trying to be good as much as anything, but I had a coffee gourmand, which is your choice of coffee with a selection of petit four which was a perfect end. Our bill came to a little under €100, but bearing in mind we had very high quality food, it seems good value for money. There is also a set menu offering two courses for €22, so on a budget, Ivan’s is an option.
On our way out we bought some fish for the next day’s dinner, and toddled off home. There are several good restaurants in Howth, but with their new set-up and lower prices than before, Ivan’s is firmly back on the map.
PS. I had a taste of the hand sliced Iberian jamon – it’s simply wonderful and if you are a fan, you will love it. Kudos to Niall Sabongi for finding such a good example.