Klaw Poké is the type of trendy seafood joint that will help Irish people get over penitential hang- ups
Catherine Cleary gets a grip of Klaw Poké, on Capel Street, Dublin
It’s pronounced “pokay”, like something an estate agent might whisper discreetly for somewhere a tad on the small side. But Klaw Poké is less poky than its teeny- tiny sister restaurant on Crown Alley in Temple Bar. The second crabshack in the Klaw family is on Capel Street, beside Caryna Camerino’s bakery. This is a street shaking off its shabby and shuttered feel one independent trader at a time.
Klaw Poké doesn’t take bookings. It shouldn’t be difficult to get a seat at 7.30pm, they tell me on the phone. But the place is heaving when I arrive. Luckily two stools free up at the zinc bar, where chef- owner Niall Sabongi is cheer fully shucking oysters, blow- torching anything that stands still long enough and charming customers, including a first- time oyster eater who seems happily addicted by the evening’s end.
My friend, who is fortunate enough to live on Capel Street, arrived in on Klaw Poké’s opening night in May. He had been stalking ( sorry following) their progress on Instagram. They didn’t take cards ( they do now) so he left without paying and strolled in the next morning with the cash, as you do with your new neighbourhood place.
The vibe takes casual to a new level. When it’s not served in cardboard bowls or on paper plates, the food arrives in the hot pan in which it’s just been cooked. Napkins ( plan for plenty if you order the shell- on prawns) come in the form of rolls of kitchen paper dotted along the counter. So it feels as if you’re at a cook- up in someone’s house by the sea. All that’s missing is the sand between your toes.
There is a long, shared table in the window, those stools at the counter and a few more on the back wall. Some people stand, as if they’re just here for a quick beer and a snack before moving on again. Everyone looks to be having a blast.
A purist’s poké is a bowl of small chunks of salted or marinated raw fish – just the fish, nothing else. You might eat it with steamed rice. But the original Hawaiian dish has been Americanised into a mixture of lots of things combined with the fish, a sort of bento box in a bowl. And that’s what they do here.
But first we start with four kinds of farmed Pacific oysters ( the wild nati ves are out of season), f reshly shucked and naked. Chardonnay vinegar with pink soaked shallots is on the counter in a small jar, along with a jalapeño pepper one. Like the oysters in the Temple Bar Klaw, these come with their own flavour story. Each one is differently delicious in personality, size and texture, a briny and unpretentious lesson in terroir.
Then juicy gambas arrive in their pan, swimming in a butter sauce with just the right amount of chilli and petals of diced garlic. The cooking juices are too good to l eave behind and there’s ciabatta to mop it up, if spooning melted butter into your mouth in public feels like a step too far.
You can design your own poké, assembling it with rice, quinoa or noodles, adding your choice of protein ( there’s tofu for a vegan option) and then garnish it a flurry of herbs, vegetables, or nuts. But they have some house bowls already designed, and we go with them. We are not the only decision- weary diners, apparently. Most people go with the house bowls.
The Ahi tuna bowl is a generous bowl of nutty brown rice topped with luscious chunks of sesame marinated tuna. There’s sweetly pickled sunomono cucumber. Barely blanched edamame beans bring their lovely mild green flavour to the mix. The seaweed comes from Howth, Sabongi says, and pickled ginger and slices of soft avocado finish off the whole delightful bowl.
The Octo poké comes in at under a tenner – although you should dig deep and add the house kimchi for an extra ¤ 1. Slippery noodles soak up the juices of salty pineapple and samphire ( from Achill). Radishes are sliced to add their clean mustard bite and a sprinkling of toasted macadamia nuts rounds it all out with a toasty crunch.
Poké is trendy and could even be described as “clean eating” but don’t let any of that put you off. Anywhere that serves a pan of melted buttery cooking juices with a spoon and a roll of kitchen paper at your elbow is doing something very right. We still need to grow up about fish and shed the last of our penitential hang- ups about precious marine resources. Making fish fun is the best way to do this, and Klaw Poké is doing it in spades.
Dinner for two, with house sparkling water, came to ¤ 60.