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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# tight squeeze
'Calling it a sardine can is generous': 3 tiny Irish restaurants serving up big, big flavours
You’ll need a reservation – or a whole lot of luck.

EVER FANTASISED ABOUT dining at a chef’s table? Or eating your lunch in a café that almost resembles someone’s kitchen? All over the country, tiny eateries are proving that bigger doesn’t always equal better and that sometimes less is more. 

Assassination Custard, Dublin 8

For the past three years, Assassination Custard has been quietly building up a reputation among the city’s foodies as one of the leading spots for a bite. Located on Kevin Street in Dublin 8, the café is small. Very small. 

“Someone once described our space as a sardine can,” says chef and proprietor Ken Doherty. “That’s generous!”

Doherty runs the café with his other half Gwen McGrath. The pair serve up their takes on Italian and Middle Eastern food, relying on ingredients sourced from the likes of Broguhgammon Farm and McNally Family Farm. The menu is as compact as the restaurant itself – and depending on the day, it could feature anything from ray cheeks to goat kidneys:

Since the beginning the menu has very much revolved around a key ingredient, which we then build a dish around. These dishes invariably have no more than three or four main ingredients. It’s about the produce. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Doherty acknowledges that the size is now likely one of the café’s uniquely selling points when it comes to getting customer through the doors: 

Most must like the cramped style and intimacy. This would no doubt be eroded if we moved premises.

At a push, the café can cater to around ten or twelve people squeezed around two tables, but the small floor space wasn’t so much a deliberate choice as much as it was unavoidable.

Finances were tight and the restaurant already had an aesthetic to the couple’s liking, which allowed them to focus on the food. In other words, they could make do with the tight space. 

A planned move to another premises fell through last year and Doherty’s not ruling one out in future. Whatever happens, though, he can be proud of the little gem he has created. 

Initially we – or rather I – had a romantic view of how a restaurant could or should be run. The reality is quite different. But with all the difficulties we are very proud of the little place.

Fish Shop, Dublin 7

Since 2015, Peter Hogan and Jumoke Akintola have been serving up seafood in Dublin 7. The couple started Fish Shop as a market stall in 2013 before moving into a bricks-and-mortar shop in Smithfield. These days, they run two restaurants – one on Queen Street and another on Benburb Street.

The Queen Street is a high-end seafood restaurant while the Benburb Street venture is a more casual fish & chips joint and wine bar. Both are notably small. 

“Queen Street seats 18 customers while Benburb Street has 15 bar stools and space for another 3-5 standing,” says Hogan. 

In the case of the Queen Street branch, Hogan says they liked the unit and location, and the small size was unavoidable.

“It works for us though as the level of quality and personality we can provide over 18 seats is what keeps us busy,” he says.
When it came to opening a sister restaurant, they were once again guided by what became available and didn’t think twice when a unit came up on nearby Benburb Street. It may be small, but that suits the business model, says Hogan. 
Although we have just 15 stools, it’s very relaxed and people use the space in many different ways – a quick sherry and some anchovies in the afternoon, a fish and chips with the kids, or a casual evening meal.  It flows really well and if it’s full people are usually happy to grab a glass of wine and a snack while they wait.  All of this keeps a buzzy atmosphere and allows us to meet the demand over the course of the night.”

Running a small restaurant comes with its upsides and downsides, says Hogan. On the one hand, you can offer a level of service and attention to detail that bigger, busier restaurants simply can’t match. On the other hand, they often can’t cater to customers who want to eat at the busiest times – at 7.30pm on a Saturday, for instance.

“Obviously in such a small restaurant we can only provide a handful of seats at this time each week so the challenge for us it convince people that should come and eat with us a 6pm or 9pm rather than going to a larger restaurant which can provide them with the 7.30pm table they wanted,” says Hogan.
This means we have to work that bit harder to win people’s custom but we are up for the challenge.

Ichigo Ichie, Cork city

For years, Corkonians have been singing the praises of Miyazaki, a Japanese restaurant and takeaway in the city. When chef Takashi Miyazaki announced he was opening a Japanese fine dining restaurant, people got very excited indeed. 

Ichigo Ichie, which translates to ‘once in a lifetime’, opened earlier this year and has won rave reviews and glowing notices. One of the restaurant’s most enticing features is the chef’s counter.

Known as Miyabi, it sits just five people and allows customers to get up close and personal with chef Takashi Miyazaki as he prepares raw dishes. (All cooked dishes are prepared in the kitchen.) Whether they choose to pepper him with questions or just look on in awe is up to them.

“Some guests like asking questions and interacting more and more as the night goes along,” explains restaurant manager Flavia Reno. “Some other guests are quieter and prefer to observe the master perfect his art. Some nights guests ended up interacting with each other, which makes a fun atmosphere. However, there is nothing wrong when someone prefers to keep to themselves as in Japanese culture restaurants are also a place for contemplation and respect.” 

The rest of the restaurant sits 25 during the week and 40 on weekends. While rumors have swirled that it’s fully booked, Reno says that this is not the case and there is usually availability on most days. The chef’s table, however, is in high demand and usually the first to go.

“Certainly working with smalls numbers make it special,” she says. “People are now in search of uniqueness and attention to detail, which we do our best to offer.    
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