Pichet

The juxtaposition of Hell’s Kitchen’s battered-but-still philosophical maitre d’ Nick Munier and ex-L’Ecrivain head chef Stephen Gibson was bound to produce something interesting and Pichet is exactly that. I’m not décor obsessed but I did like the cool grey walls and stylish, comfy royal blue seats – just sitting there felt like being aboard a rather smart train, waiting to be whisked somewhere more exotic than Dublin on another dull day.

The building has enjoyed several manifestations during the time I’ve been rattling around – a cheese shop, an Italian enoteca-style restaurant, a Cafe Leon and a weird place selling American candy bars spring to mind. Now there’s a cafe bar at the Trinity Street end, which is now where the entrance is located, with the restaurant behind it, flanked on the Andrews Lane side by a protected, heatable terrace which should delight smokers and fresh air freaks. It was here I chose to park myself while waiting for The Knocklyon Princess.

Amazingly Her Royal Highness swept in on the dot of 1.30. I met her immediate request for red wine by ordering a bottle of Torres Iberico, a reliable, if unspectacular Rioja.

Having carelessly left my false dreadlocks, monocle and chequered waistcoat behind, I was recognised by the management. Nick came over for a chat. I opined that he seemed to have made a bright start and he responded “Yes, thanks to some favourable reviews.” He cited Tom, Ross, Aingela and someone called Katie. “Well you won’t bloody need my approval then” I mock-snarled – since watching Sandra Bernhardt in ‘Dinner Rush’ for the fifth time I’ve aggroed-up my persona, I’m now practising ‘criticism with attitude’. Nick promptly retreated, leaving the menu and wine list.

For the moment at any rate, it’s all a la carte. Still, two people should be able to eat and drink for €100 unless they are me and The KP. Herself, who I’d figured as something of a chicksteaker surprised me by choosing the suckling pig belly pork for her main, leaving me the rump of lamb. I craved the Castletownbere crab as a starter. At the same time I hankered to try the crispy fried egg, fast gaining a reputation around town as a smart bit of trompe l’oeul cuisine. Luckily, the Princess spotted it too so I was able to scam some.

The crab had that ‘foreplay with a mermaid’ aroma that both means ‘fresh’ and heightens the anticipation – I’m always suspicious when crab, purportedly ‘fresh’, arrives smelling (and subsequently, tasting) of zilch or is doused in eye-watering vinagrette. The accompanying pot of mussel meat and chorizo, a good dip for the excellent bread they provided, was a sound detail. The crispy egg was, put simply, a tour de force. If I was to try to de-construct the dish I’d say it was par-poached, wrapped in Serrano ham, coated in breadcrumbs then flash-deep fried and served with the yolk still runny. Still, I could be wrong.

The belly of pork was a ‘how to do it’ demo. Certain other restaurants, like the one I reviewed a couple of weeks ago should pop along and see for themselves. My Connemara hill lamb came exactly as I’d ordered, “pinked, on the rare side of medium, rare”. A great piece of meat, tender, with burgeoning flavour. The chips were no great shakes though.

By this time we were into the second bottle of red. The aussie Shiraz Vignier I’d asked for was out of stock so we reverted to one of Nick’s original suggestions, a Côtes du Ventoux 2007, wine from a region where committed small-scale producers make interesting gear. It was hefty, rustic stuff. Nick did warn us that it threw a crust. He should also have warned his waiter not to dump three inches of sludge in my final glass, I was picking the grouts out of my teeth all that night.

To say that we shared a dessert was not quite true. The Knocklyon Princess doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I was therefore condemned to eat a whole portion of white chocolate cheesecake, topped with passion fruit jelly, and dotted with raspberries, a very lenient sentence. Afterwards I was almost shocked by the correctness of the espresso, so unusual.

Bright start” is right. This modern bistro cookery is springing up everywhere. Whether as a response to recession or simply a rejection of the fiddly-farty stuff practised by formal restaurants in the last ten years I’m not sure. Anyhow, the food at Pichet is at the very cutting edge of this trend. The staff are obliging if a trifle come-day, go-day. Nick’s own predilection for ‘hands on’ will keep them on their toes, good job, for a few details (like the pacing of the meal) need tidying. I was pleased to spot Caitriona, who served us so well at The Pig’s Ear a few months ago. Apparently, she’s Nick’s sister-in-law; nothing like keeping these ventures in the family, as the French know full well.

133.25 for 2 starters, 2 mains, dessert, 2 x bottle and a glass of wine

Verdict: Smart cooking, fab décor, willing service, good addition to the Dublin dining scene.

Rating: ****

Pichet 14-15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 677 1060