How do you define ‘style’ and ‘class’? Hard to say, except by giving examples. An artefact, a watch, say, or a handbag may be deemed “stylish” at a given time in its life cycle. But sometimes “modish” is a more accurate word – last year’s megabuck platform heels are all too often this years church fete lucky bag give-away. Yet some stylish things endure and the reason is not always obvious – the original Porsche 911, for example. This nightmare drive with its abysmal rear vision and skating rink cornering has always been drop-dead stylish in a way that its overblown Nader Age successors with chunky rubber, turbocharged sixes and Noddy-in-Toytown bumpers can never hope to emulate. So is it with ‘class’. Audrey Hepburn had class in a way that Victoria Posh-Beckham couldn’t assimilate if she lived to be as old (and as rich) as the Queen Mum.
Let me say from the outset that The French Paradox, down Shelburne Road on the cusp of the Ballsbridge dining strip, simply exudes class. And style. Their smoked duck breast salad with rocket, tiny grapes and quail’s eggs, elegantly presented, should be cryogenically frozen and preserved for future generations to admire, in case Tania and Pierre Chapeau ever delete it from the menu.
Curiously, the only criticism I have heard of Paradox comes not from friends I have taken there, many of whom had only previously encountered quail’s eggs via the TV version of Brideshead Revisited, but from well set up locals who like their style and class served up in gargantuan helpings. Which is not the point of the place.
Essentially, it’s a wine bar with food, tastefully bedecked Scandinavian fashion in plain wood, befitting the intention of T & P, who saw it as a showcase-above-the shop for the excellent wines they source. The food thing “just grew” to meet demand and because I and they are happy with the way it is and because an extension is planned I hope the dining concept never expands to the point where it will embarrass them.
There’s a heartwarming story attached. The building, a family heirloom if buildings can be ‘heirlooms’, was Tania’s mum’s surgery. That lady, one of feminism and modern Ireland’s unsung heroines, was a GP of the progressive sort at a time in the nation’s history when medical advice to women consisted of “take two of these, twice a day, get back to the sink/cooker, keep having the babies.” Tragically Dr.Legg was killed in a collision with a bus, just before Christmas, back in the late eighties. Over a decade later Tania and Pierre, wine trade professionals both, came up with the germ of an idea that would lead to the opening of the French Paradox last summer, both as memento mori and as a wholehearted celebration of life’s going on.
Five of us did our own celebrating there last week. Minerva and Diana with the smoked duck; Ariadne with the “sublime” – her words – savoury fish platter, while Bacchus and I crossed forks over the ‘Assiette des Plaisirs’, subtitled Four Ways With Foie Gras – warm, mi-cuit, and as parfait and terrine. I think I preferred my description – “the ultimate venial sin” to Bacchus’ cruder, more graphic “heart attack on a plate.” We consumed this gourmet fantasy with the aid of a bucket of fresh French bread (baked on the premises), two bone dry manzanilla sherries, a bottle of Mas Eolienne, a brilliant white from Languedoc, a round of Evian, far-and-away the best still water, and four coffees, two of which were espressi that kicked with a capital K, a nice change. No one was gauche enough to point out that we could have had a three-course lunch elsewhere for around the same money which proves how well I choose my dining companions and how stylish, classy and unique The French Paradox is.
2 x duck breast salad 25.00
1 x fish plate 12.50
1 x Assiette des Plaisirs 35.00
2 glasses manzanilla sherry 10.00
4 x Evian water 8.00
Bottle Mas d’Espanet Eolienne 2001 28.50
5 x coffees 12.50