Tag Archives: Dun Laoghaire

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Alexis

American business psychologist Warren G. Bennis, described by Forbes magazine as ‘the king of leadership gurus’  is on record for saying “People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out.” An adage that should be learned and committed to heart by restaurateurs, too many of whom seem content to stick rigidly to the same timeworn formula until the closure sign goes up on the door.

It’s generally recognized that five years is about as long as a restaurant can survive before major changes have to be made and that the trick is to make such changes before doing so becomes a last resort. The other trick is to make sure you are not making changes for the wrong reasons; there’s a world of difference between the restaurant going stale and the proprietor going stale.

Alexis, popular restaurant in Dun Laoghaire, has been in business about four and a half years. Recently Patrick O’Reilly and his brother chef Alan decided time for change had come and the opportunity presented itself, in particular, to remedy the two most persistent criticisms made by diners one, that the dining room is noisy and two, the service sometimes got a tad ragged around the edges. Here’s Patrick announcing (on my website forum) the proposed changes:- “ Over the next 4 weeks we will be renovating the restaurant, reducing the numbers and taking the food, service and wine list up a level. We will be making the room a bit softer and more intimate and have been advised by an acoustics expert to help us along. In addition, we have recruited a new head chef and have replaced some other staff with more experienced personnel. We will be doing intensive training with all of those remaining to upskill them to the level we want. We’re seriously excited about the direction the food is going to take and I’m personally buzzing about the new wine list I’m in the process of putting together. The key element in the new project will be that, despite the proposed improvements in every area of the business, we plan to keep our pricing at or about the same level and retain the accessibility and relaxed nature of the service.” Bloody hell, I thought at the time. That’s some mission statement. If Pat and Alan could pull it off, we should give them charge of Ireland’s regeneration.

Accordingly Ruby, Pearl and myself, dining companions with a long mutual history, navigated the challenging Dun Laoghaire one-way system intent on checking whether the Alexis revamp had ticked all the boxes. First off, the dining room, while you couldn’t call it intimate, is certainly cosier. The new soft furnishings and the acoustic baffling have given the space an altogether calmer, quieter demeanour. We leaned back into comfortable chairs. The piped music,  initially intrusive, got less so as the room filled up, dampened by the buzz of conversation.

Our service requirements were amply met by a skilled and personable South African lad and by Pat himself. The timing between courses was immaculate – only a small matter but getting it right makes such a difference to the enjoyment of a multi-course meal. The new wine list justified Pat’s “buzz”. Picpoul seems to be making an impression at the minute and I’m glad. Too me it seems like the white wine all you Pinot Grigio drinkers have been marking time for, a wine for our times, a felicitous half-way house between stingy Sauvignon Blanc and fat cat Chardonnay.

But the glory of Alexis is the food. Always has been. Impeccably sourced ingredients, ‘real’ and seasonal treated in the kitchen with love, affection and respect. Venison, rare breed pork, sweetbreads, pigeon and other rustic delights featured regularly, flying in the face of conventional restaurant wisdom which says that for every portion you sell you could do a dozen chicken breasts and make more money. Could this food for foodies get any better?

It soon became evident that it could. Starters, even the goat cheese one, avoided the habitual clichés. The dressing that came with my sweetbreads and wild mushrooms had the pluperfect amount of ‘zing’. The flavour burst from my wood pigeon was incredible, putting me in mind of those sherbet things I used to enjoy as a kid. Ruby’s hake positively glistened and the sight of Pearl’s slow-cooked beef had me making preposterous promises in return for a mouthful – “Hang my shirts up? ‘Course I will, dear.” Presentation has been considerably sharpened up. Whereas Alexis’s food previously had substance it now has real style too. Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the desserts. You could have hung ours as a triptych on the wall at The Tate Modern and charged a tenner to view. As to value for money, there is currently no better to be had within the confines of The Pale than Alexis Bar & Grill’s €24 three-courser.

 

Alexis Bar and Grill, 17 / 18 Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 280 8872

Food ****1/2

Wine ****

Service ****

Ambience ***1/2

Overall ****

 

 

Seapoint

Three years ago Sibella and I were in Italy, dining in a restaurant that purported to have more class than the ones we normally frequent on holiday. We had been lured there by the enticing and affordable table d’hote menu displayed in the window.

Once inside, we were handed the a la carte menu. Our request for the table d’hote was immediately met by a stare halfway between bemused and hostile. We stuck to our guns and were rewarded by the maitre d’ peeling the menu of our hearts’ desire from the glass. Clearly, we were not meant to eat from this carte. He laid down a stringent set of conditions – there was to be no variation, we had to chose three courses from A, B, or C, with no mixing’n’matching. The restaurant’s choice of wine to accompany the dishes was likewise set in stone.

I plumped for menu C, as it contained the magic words ‘sucking pig’.

By the time the dish arrived I was in a high old state of salivation. I stuck the fork in, tasted a morsel and frowned. My tastebuds told me that this was not sucking pig. I hailed the maitre d’ and enquired in friendly fashion “Is this the sucking pig?” He replied in the affirmative. “Are you sure?” I pressed. He turned on his heels and went into the kitchen, returning a moment later to proclaim “Chef says it is a young pig, speciality of the region.”

I recommenced eating. Another mouthful and I was utterly convinced that this was not sucking pig. I summoned the maitre d’ once more. “Any chance we could have a word in private, please?” We stepped outside. “Are you sure this is sucking pig, I asked, firmer this time. “Chef says it is young pig, speciality of the region,” came the pat reply. “Well, Chef is a lying bastard and so are you. This is not sucking pig, is it?” “Chef says….” I cut him short. “This is not sucking pig is it? This is f*cking fish.” “Yes,” he admitted, “It’s fish.” He had the grace to blush.

In my time as a restaurant reviewer and dedicated diner I’ve had some heinous deceptions practised on me. I’ve been palmed off with chicken as guinea fowl; farmed salmon as wild; pork fillet as rose veal. But swordfish masquerading as sucking pig is surely the emperor of all gastro-scams.

I hadn’t eaten swordfish since; that is, until last Bank Holiday Monday when I had dinner at Seapoint. Monkstown’s Crescent used to be a hotbed of decent dining but latterly it’s been pretty mundane. Still, one lives in hope and I’d heard good things about Seapoint from people whose opinions I’d respect. We arrived at the tail end of early bird time, the place was packed and the kitchen clearly under pressure. There wasn’t much of a meet’n’greet and though we were invited to sit at the bar until the earlier couple had vacated our table, no one asked us would we like a drink. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put wet coats and, indeed, no one available to take them so we draped them over spare bar stools when we went to table.

A strategic bowl of rather good bread kept us occupied while the kitchen struggled to get back on terms. Then the starters arrived and from there on in it was all smiles. Sibs took the tian of crab tian, with a celeriac remoulade and a tangy pickled cucumber dressing, beautifully fresh and nicely presented. I went for a big bowl of mussels, having spied the one that went to the adjacent table, steamed Thai-style with coconut, chilli and coriander. We both took fish for mains: she, the pan fried honey and mustard monkfish, ingeniously teamed with spicy spaghetti fritters and a lemon and ginger jus; me, the grilled swordfish, quite a substantial chunk, came accompanied by baked fennel and garlic, a spicy tomato salsa and a lemon olive oil dressing. I was somewhat relieved to find the swordfish wasn’t sucking pig! It also came with chips, good ones too.

The wine list, like the cooking, is eclectic. Unlike the cooking, it’s slightly hit-and-miss. €48 for the less than whelming Pierro LTC sauv/sem really is not on. We shared a bottle of Senorio de Cruces, an Albarino, from Rias Baixas, Spain, crisp and decent, with enough weight to counter the glitzed-up fish dishes.

Sibella picked the winning dessert, a truly excellent lime and ginger crème brulee, served with balsamic and strawberry ice-cream. I opted for the selection of organic Tickety-Moo ice-cream of which I’d heard good things. In truth it was a disappointment, seeming a tad deficient in flavour. This was but a small blemish. Overall, we liked Seapoint for the ambience, adventurous cooking and truly excellent service.

The damage: €111.30, ex-service, for 2 x starters/mains/desserts, 1 coffee, bottle of wine

Verdict: Good to find a restaurant that does fish well.

Rating ****

Seapoint Restaurant, 4 The Crescent, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, 01 6638480