Tag Archives: French Provincial Cooking

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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