Tag Archives: France

Pearl Brasserie

French cuisine has had an immense bearing on the food we eat in restaurants here today. I think it’s entirely fair to say that the significant influences on what’s come to be called ‘modern Irish cooking’ have been the classical training undergone by the chefs (no need to name them) who pioneered our transition from third to first world country in dining terms and the seeming revolutionary writings of Elizabeth David whose French Provincial Cooking opened the eyes and mouths of a generation of food lovers to new gastronomic experiences.

Sebastian Masi is, without doubt a very talented chef. He came to Ireland from France to work for Patrick Guilbaud and eventually ended up at the late lamented The Commons on Stephen’s Green. He had the best of times there, witnessing the acquisition of its Michelin Star and leaving before that establishment lost the run of itself in what many believe to be the harbinger of a general recession, going down Titanic-like with all hands in a welter of finger pointing.
By this time Sebastian and his partner, Kirsten Batt, had set up Pearl Brasserie on Merrion Street. I went there for dinner with a bevy of chefs and restaurateurs on foot of our inaugural Restaurant of The Year Award lunch and the subsequent socializing. I remember thinking that the food was excellent and reasonably priced but that I’d spent a fierce amount of money, must have been the wine. So it proved. I’ve found out since that the life-is-for-living EuroToques bunch seem to have the ability to drink Premier Crus Chablis as if the whole of Burgundy has been zoned for redevelopment.
What would my conclusions be this time, I wondered, as I drifted down the steps, flanked by my two venerable dining companions Ruby and Pearl. Hopefully the liquid intake would be more frugal on this occasion.
We were greeted promptly and pleasantly and ushered to a table in the corner of the room, where we could observe the other diners and breathe in the ambience, a quintessential part of the pleasure of dining out so far as the girls are concerned. They commented favourably on the décor. I studied the menu.
I had expected a more overt French influence on the food and cooking style. Indeed, Pearl Brasserie’s website, which I’d looked at a couple of days before, had stressed the French connection. Sebastian himself had reinforced my expectation by providing a recipe for traditional poule au pot for a feature in F&W last autumn. And you would imagine that a restaurant that calls its starters entrées and its main courses plats principals would be distinctively French. But the food on offer seemed quite ‘unclassical’, more international new era, if not quite fusion-tinged. In fact, not very French at all.
When it comes to bunging down three courses plus cheese and coffee, Pearl and particularly Ruby, are simply not at the races. How anyone can forgo such delights as crab bisque, gravadlax and sauce vierge or pan-fried duck foie gras is simply beyond me. Mind you, this gastro-rectitude didn’t stop them scamming a slice of my lobster ravioli, which was wonderfully counterpointed by a spicy red pepper compote and baby spinach. When it came to mains, the available choice was tilted heavily in favour of fish and one cannot help feeling that this is where Sebastian Masi’s heart lies. If you included the market special (John Dory, with what on more pretentious menus would undoubtedly have been referred to as ‘caviar of beetroot’) things piscatorial outnumbered birds and beasts by 6-4. We didn’t see a vegetarian option listed but I presume there must be one. The JD tasted as if Saint Peter had just plucked it from the sea; Ruby’s seared king scallops with a parsnip and black truffle mousse was so appealing I was tempted to order it as a second plat principal and forgo dessert; Pearl’s pan-fried sea bass justified her faith, imaginatively accompanied, as it was, by flavoursome baked cherry tomatoes and a brilliant sweet potato risotto – who have thought of it?
I think by now you’ll be beginning to get the picture – all the foregoing is hardly French cusine is it? But to be truthful it didn’t matter. I’d got over my pre-prandial primeval yearning for a sticky daube de boeuf. Main courses were priced at e18-26, vegetables extra and here I’d take issue with the restaurant’s policy. I’m not looking for a mountain of mash or a whole head of cabbage but a few veggies with your main doesn’t go amiss and I think, in this day and age it’s taking the proverbial to charge a fiver a throw for mash, fries, garlic mushrooms and stir-fried chinese cabbage.
The wine list needs revising, in my opinion. There were many interesting bottles (Durbanville Hills Pinotage, Bonny Doon Riesling, Chateau Kefreya from the Lebanon) showing the compiler had done his/her homework but only 3 items out of 48 were priced under e28. We took a bottle of Sancerre Domaine Vacheron 2001, one of my favourites, but not cheap at e49.
Of our desserts, one worked one didn’t. The chocolate mousse was a triumph, as the picture shows, voted delicious by all three of us and deserving of a more exotic title. But my basil sorbet with a basil vodka combined a killer alcohol fix with the flavour and something of the texture of rotting lettuce. Sorry, no. I don’t bear a grudge, I’ve made similar boobs myself – I have a freezer full of Bloody Mary sorbet which everyone hates but me.
The bill came to just over e170, service discretionary and while we’re on the subject the service was exemplary – polished, professional, polite. The décor is exquisite, the ambience warm and comfortable. The cooking (once you’d banished your Gallic aspirations) would satisfy the most critical. But I was left with the slightly uncomfortable feeling that I’d paid over the odds for what we’d had – one starter, three mains, two desserts, two coffees, a Bacardi and a good, though not benchmark bottle of Sancerre. To be truly memorable, I believe Pearl Brasserie has to find a formula that will banish this malaise.

Pearl Brasserie, 20 Upper Merrion Street, Dublin 2 Tel: (01) 661 3572 Web: www.pearl-brasserie.com
Lunch Tues-Fri 12-2.30 Dinner daily 6-10.30

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GUBU II – Good, Unlovable, Brilliant, Undrinkable

Domaine de Champ-Brulee, Vincent, Macon Villages 2001
A really together wine. Chardonnay with manners! Beautifully crafted with distinctive mineral tints that talk of terroir rather than the crushed fruit factory. Don’t say pineapples, melons or mangoes, say “wine” – this is complex and enjoyable and superb value for money.
e13.95 O’Briens

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2000
Well, you know what you are getting from one of the Cape’s best! Deliberately French-styled elegant wine, but florally perfumed and with a great weight of fruit which – though carefully balanced – seems to want to break out. Like a big, muscular guy stuffed into a tux but dying to rip the bloody thing off and have a game of rugby!
e25 approx. various outlets.
RATING: EXCELLENT but a lot of competition for the money

St.Hallet Riesling 2001
Pleasant enough, but a little bit ‘obvious’. Lemony, with a curious hint of toasted sunflower seeds on the palate, it was sort of “riesling with a sun tan”, over-cooked and maybe a tad lacking in character. A bit surprising because St Hallet make some really nice wines. Not my fave Aussie Riesling.
e11.99 O/Briens

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2002
Very intense and upfront, and a bit unrestrained, it got quite cloying towards the end of the bottle. Wouldn’t rave, especially as there’s a lot of competition.
e?? James Nicholson

Torres Vina Sol 2002
Spain’s answer to Sauv B, Parellada is the grape that makes up this dull-but-worthy white. Decent winemaking but low on Wow! Factor.
e11 widely available

Mas D’Espanet Eolienne 2001 Vin de pays d’Oc
Wonderful characterful complex white. As is common in S France, no back label, so no idea about cepage except there has got to be some Marsanne in there and possibly a little Chard (guessing). I suspect there’s great keeping quality here.
Around e18, French Paradox

Bonterra Chardonnay 2001
Bonterra are getting such a profile there could be a tendency to diss their products which would be a shame for this is very nice winemaking and much more complex and interesting than a lot of the Chard coming out of Chile, Australia and South Africa for around the same money. And it’s organic and should be encouraged.
e15.79 widely available

Bourgogne Kimmeridgien Chardonnay. J.M. Brocard 2000
A beauty from a good producer. Complex, interesting, with that laid back but ‘developed’ feel that makes Burgundian whites so interesting when much of the new world stuff starts to pall. Clever winemaking.
e12 approx, O’Briens.

Villard Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2002
Well received by dinner party guests. Surprising class and in a blind tasting we’d have marked it as a good Kiwi. Long finish.
e13 approx

D’Arenberg 2002 The Money Spider Roussane
Here they go again! The Aussie Rhone Rangers turn in a classy performance with a white. Real joyous, vibrant stuff. I don’t think there’s a deal of keeping in this but just the job for a change from Chard or SB.
Around e12

Ice Wine Vidal 2000 Lakeview Cellars, Ontario
Opened in error! Needed a sticky in a hurry to wash down some far aux pruneaux (see recipes) and plucked this out of The Hole. Miles too young, all you got was a peachy syrupy sweetness without much character. Will it develop? Dunno?
Price ???

Rosé de Landoc Frisant Moulin de Gassac
Pleasing petillance from a good producer. Nothing serious, garden wine really but skilfully made

Marques de Casa Concha 2000 Merlot
I have to say I really love this wine. it drinks big in the best possible sense. It’s, huge but soft and lovely and very complex, I think it could be mistaken for a Pomerol if met in a blind tasting. Killed two bottles a couple of days apart and the second was no less impressive. Huge violets and chocolate nose and v.long finish. Chilean winemaking at its best. Contemplative, doesn’t need food but would be great with lamb and lashings of garlicy things.
Around e14 widely available

Gigondas Domaine Raspail-Ay 2000
Saw this Gigondas, which I’d enjoyed in earlier vintages had fallen a bit flat in Raymond Blake’s FOOD & WINE Magazine tasting, so couldn’t wait to try it. Hmm, yes, tasters got it right, it’s curiously flat and unwelcoming. Grenache with its terrible unstructured elements, flabby puffy fruit and none of its unbridled joy and no backbone. Such a pity, still many a good producer makes a cock-up now and again. here’s to a return to form.

La Vielle Ferme 2001
Grenache, Syrah, Cinsaut, Mourvedre – all the sunny south of France in a bottle that’s the little brother of the Perrin Nature of GUBU I fame. Uncomplicated enjoyable wine made by guys who really know their business and great value for money at under e10.
Widely available

Mas Mouris Coteaux de Languedoc 2001
Stylish, steely red that’s worth opening a few hours ahead of drinking time. Small Languedoc producers are still a bit hit-and-miss, but this one’s a winner.
Around e18 French Paradox

Gigondas Laurus 1999 Gabriel Meffre
Decant, decant, decant. When first opened it seemed a bit flabby and characterless. After an hour or so the plums on the palate and pepper on the nose really came through.
Around e18

Valpolicella Classico Zenato 1999
If you thought Valpol was the bottle you take to a party and leave on the table while you quaff the host’s St.Emilion, think again. This guy Zenato is hot, a winemaker on a roll and everything he does is worth drinking. Nice weight of fruit and absolutely perfect balance – the acidity isn’t used as a cop out to kill cloying fruit, everything’s in total harmony. Hugely recommended.
Around e12, fairly widely available

Sierra Cantabria 2001 Rioja
Fairly average stuff, not one of O’Brien’s better buys to my mind. Straight up and down Rioja, sort of cut-price Faustino (which means a lot of people in Ireland will like it) easy drinking but I found it wearying after a bit. Disappointing, especially after their dabbles in Borja and Abadia Retuerta have produced such exciting drinking.
e9.99 O’Briens

Montepulciano d”Abruzzo Vigna Corvino 2000
Stonking big wine with some style, almost like a ripasso wine. Great weight of dark morello fruit with unresolved tannins that tell me this might even be worth hanging on to.
Under e10, O’Briens

Gigondas Domaine Machotte Père Amadieu 1998
Another Gigondas that hid its charms until the second half. While I liked the fragrant, violet bouquet this wine didn’t really register on the palate. Guests preferred the humble CduR that preceded it. I went back to it when they’d gone and thought it was terrific. Long finish, very nice stuff indeed.
Around e19

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