Tag Archives: Recommended

Koh

Given the nature of my calling, I get to stay in hotels quite a lot. Sometimes it’s a pleasure; at others, a chore. The best hotels envelop you like a silk dressing gown, helping you endure the stresses of air travel, which are, as I’m sure you know, considerable. The worst are like a penitent’s hair shirt, the constant itch reminding you it was folly to leave home. implements1

I have my favourites – and for different reasons. I love the calm and karma of the Japanese rooms in Munich’s Kempinski Vier Jahreszeiten; the ‘feels like home’ reassurance of the Hyatt in Adelaide; the friendly staff at the Poseidon in Positano; the sinful luxury of Villa D’Este on the banks of Lake Como – all these help balance the far more numerous ones where ‘comfort’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘civility’ are alien concepts.

My favourite hotel in London is The Halkin. First time I stayed there my bed was so capacious I had an urge to phone up old friends to say “Come over, we’ll have a party, re-enact The Summer of Love.” There was this massive remote, the size of a dinner plate, that seemed to command everything from the curtains to the temperature of the bath water. Best of all, it had a Thai restaurant on the premises that grew to be one of my all-time favourites. It’s called Nahm.

Nahm, brainchild of talented Aussie chef David Thompson, is the benchmark by which I judge Thai food. The cooking there has what you could call ‘an unbelievable lightness of being’ – the broths are not muddy, the spices not fused into a ‘sweetness’ or ‘hotness’ remain identifiable yet, concurrently, contribute in sensible manner to making the whole dish memorable. Difficult to explain, but I know what I’m looking for and I’m always disappointed when a Thai restaurant misses the mark by a country mile, as is too often the case.

I took Daughter Two, over on a flying visit, for a pint in The Clarence. Then we walked over the Millennium Bridge and down the alley. Koh is located at the far end, incongruous among the Italians and Italophiles that populate this sector of the daftly-named ‘Quartier Bloom’. I had tried a couple of times to book a table when the restaurant first opened but someone else’s favourable review had the place packed.

There were tables outside but only a couple of hardy souls were using them; inside, a hubbub of conversation, entirely female. Apparently Koh’s ‘Mixo’ is a smart lad who’s won prizes for his ingenious alcoholic confections so the ladies who lounge were all climbing into cocktails. How could we not follow suit? We commandeered a Manhattan and a Pomegranate Mountie, speciality of the house. The Manhattan, made properly, is a thing of wonder. From the ingredients you’d expect it to taste sweet and cloying but it doesn’t.

After a civilized interval we were shown to the restaurant, a decently got up dining room with a couple of private booths, tables round the edge and a long communal table (in true Thai fashion) down the middle of the room. We took one of the peripheral tables and settled down to the task of choosing food and suitable accompanying wine. Thai is not the easiest cuisine to match. White works best but the out-front spicing renders Chardonnay anaemic and Sauvignon Blanc aggressive. Some say Gewurztraminer, some say Riesling but I’m not wholly convinced. Thai food, I find, needs a touch of something dark-natured with a mite of viscosity; Gruner Veltliner fits the bill, as does Albarinho, which is what we settled on.

Thai desserts tend to be pretty mundane and, as neither of us has are particularly sweet-toothed, we figured that four starters to share, plus two mains would suffice as well as permitting us to take a wide-ranging look at what was on offer. And so it proved. The starters excited, particularly that ‘mange tout of the sea’, soft shell crab, which came accompanied by green papaya salad, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. Rachel had not had it before and loved the sea-zingy freshness and the crunch texture. The coriander, lime and cashew nut chutney that formed a bed for pan-seared king scallops was unexpectedly delightful, something I’ll try and reprise at home. The baby back ribs, glazed with hoi sin and char-grilled, were meaty and satisfying. I was glad to find the mussels Thai style were small, sweet natives not of the rubbery green-lipped inedible ilk. There was eating and drinking in this dish and the accompanying broth, which managed to be both spicy and subtle, providing a stimulus for the mains that followed.

Herself, something of a Phad Thai veteran, opined that this one was the best yet, prawns big and tasty. Praise indeed. Saucing of my red duck curry was well up to snuff and the duck, tender – something of a novelty in Dublin Thai restaurants where this dish frequently pops up. I should also make mention of the waiting staff who paced the meal beautifully. Afterwards we repaired to the bar where we made the acquaintance of the proprietor. I compliment him on the food. He said “Yes, we have some good chefs here. They don’t allow us to muck about with their mothers’ recipes.” Nice one. A convivial Galway man, he had trained at Manchester’s Midland Hotel. Rachel, also a Hotel Management graduate, had worked at the nearby Ramada so the rest of the evening passed pleasantly by in a detailed analysis of Mancunian shebeens.

Koh, Millenium Walkway, Dublin 1 Tel: 01 814 6777

The damage: €117.20 ex-service for 2 cocktails, 4 starters, 2 mains, bottle of decent wine.

Verdict: Not Nahm but not far off. Gives Dublin suburban Thai something to aim at.

Rating: ****1/2

TOTAL €117.20

Bordering on Great – Ludlow

Ludlow
Ludlow

Ludlow is an historic, exceptionally pretty town in South Shropshire,  bordering the counties of Herefordshire, also in England and Powys, Wales’ largest. Latterly Ludlow has been hyped (many would say massively over-hyped) as England’s provincial gastro capital.

There for a few days, holidaying with Daughter One, I came to the conclusion that the hype was only partly justified. Granted there are two Michelin-starred restaurants (there were 3 until Shaun  Hill quit The Merchant House to take over the Franco Taruchio’s legendary The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny) but the supporting cast is mundane at best – the cafes unenticing and the pubs wearisomely formulaic.

The real glory of Ludlow is in its local produce which is exceptional with good bakers, great butchers, pie, cheese and jam makers and myriad other artisans. Also, of course, the pastoral idyll that surrounds you.

Lower Buckton
Lower Buckton

We stayed at Lower Buckton, a small country house b&b near Leintwardine, a pretty village only a few  miles from Ludlow, ensconced in glorious countryside – perfect for the walking we had planned to undertake. Lower Buckton gets forkncork‘s vote for Best Breakfast for Ages with home made meusli, yoghurt, Welsh honey, home made breads, jams and marmalades, crowning glory being the perfectly poached eggs, yolks deep golden; superb butcher’s sausage and what I think is the best dry-cured bacon I’ve ever tasted. Oh and nearly missed the tasty fat field mushroom, topped with fresh sage. Good coffee too, makes a nice change. No tomatoes though – “They aren’t in season” said Carolyn, giving the clue to what Lower Buckton is all about. Anyhow, we were stuffed, we didn’t need tomatoes. But we did need the hike afterwards.

The night before we had eaten a meal of local salami, home made mushroom paté (must get the recipe) and quail’s eggs, with a delish bread from a local baker – Carolyn says it’s called ‘Shropshire Brown’; followed by ultra-fresh wild venison liver, pearl spelt and lovely assorted greens dug up that afternoon from the garden by Henry, Carolyn’s husband, who introduced himself to us as ‘the butler’.

Henry Chesshire and Carolyn Stone are a convivial couple, with the knack of making guests feel at home. A good few years ago they decided to shun supermarkets and everything you eat now comes from the garden, the local farms, or local artisan producers and the quality shines through. Carolyn also gives cooking lessons. Thanks go to Henry for keeping us topped up with tea and coffee as we sat in the comfortable lounge, tapping laptops or resting aching feet.

One caveat, though. I’m sure H & C won’t mind me saying that they are country folk, with the habits and prejudices that a rural upbringing implants. Hunting, shooting and fishing come as natural to them as dodging traffic and following footie  to city dwellers. Hyper PC foodies should maybe leave their sensibilities at home or conclude here and now that Lower Buckton ain’t their bag.

breakfast-bucktonThough personally I think the best use for horses (untrustworthy beasts, as I know from being dumped on my arse in a Connemara bohereen) is in salami di Milano, I can’t wait to get back to Lower Buckton. Thanks, Carolyn and Henry for a memorable few days.

ps Anyone visiting the Marches should also check out The Stagg at Titley – stellar food in a very pleasant pub/restaurant.

www.lowerbuckton.co.uk

www.thestagg.co.uk

One Pico

 

Some years ago I lost my senses, opened a small café-cum-restaurant and went cheffing for a living. I never made any money but the experience has proved useful enough in my present role as restaurateurs know I’ve been there and, on those rare occasions when I do put the boot in, it’s not for lack of understanding.

 

When I set out to find suitable premises for my new venture, friends were prompt to remind me of the old adage “location, location, location”. Of course that’s all very well if you have the money to afford the location of your dreams – a chunk of the ground floor of Brown Thomas would have done nicely – but if you haven’t you have to cut your coat according to your cloth. Heart set on opening up in Dublin 2, 4 or 6, I looked at quite a few premises, some fit for the purpose, others palpably less so. One place I looked at had an ingenious USP; it was called “Bernie’s Cosy Corner”. “You’ll only have to change one letter – just drop the ‘B’”, Sibella sniggered.

 

I was reminded of this some years later when Eamonn O’Reilly moved his restaurant, One Pico, from a Camden Street then more down-market than of late into a swanky premises in an alley off Molesworth Street vacated by another restaurant. The latter was called Polo One. “He’ll only have to change two letters,” was my remark on hearing the news.

 

One Pico has hung on in there ever since, offering a far-better-than-average version of fine dining without maybe enjoying the acclaim that others have enjoyed. At the same time Michelin, Zagat, Frommers and Conde Nast have all included One Pico in their publications. Perhaps Eamonn’s restaurant, like prophets, is more celebrated abroad.

 

I bust a gut to get there on the dot of 1.30 (even after 22 years in Ireland, the old English punctuality dies hard). Really I needn’t have bothered because I knew, in my heart of hearts, that Esmeralda would be late. Sure enough, as I walked into the restaurant, the mobile rang. I used the ensuing twenty minutes for exploring a glass of Picpoul de Pinet, sommelier Arnaud Legat’s recommendation for a pre-prandial tipple.

 

The fragrant Esmeralda, as dining companion, would be at the opposite end of the spectrum from the likes of Foodmad. The latter is wont to dissect every morsel, to notice every nuance of integrity or the lack of it. Ezzie, on the other hand, is one for ambience and the like, caring not overly about food and, by her own admission, knowing less. We go back a long way, to a time when an employer decided to imprison the noisiest (me) and the untidiest (her), or maybe it was the other way round, in the same room. She’s great craic and offers more in the way of eye candy than Lefty and Foodmad lumped together. She has an eye for a bargain too and when she saw that One Pico was offering a three-course lunch for under \20 she immediately warmed to the place.

 

My crab, sweet peas and saffron risotto was brilliantly executed. Risotti can be fairly bland; this one was anything but and the quality shone through. The texture was terrific – a correct halfway staging post between rice pudding and soup. Esmeralda took the celeriac and thyme soup, which came prettily presented with young spinach and a tower of braised venison, the flavour of which made a pleasing contrast. In her own words, Ezzie is “a sucker for duck” and rapidly appropriated the duck leg confit, braised red cabbage and a carrot and star anis purée, leaving me to console myself with the pheasant breast. This flavoursome kit came with a wonderful chestnut and bacon stuffing which I’m going to try and replicate at home when ‘Porkgate’ is but a distant memory and a rich sauce of ceps, truffles and cream. Esmeralda only drinks red – I’ll deffo have to get her and Sibs out together, the Jack Sprat and Missus of wine imbibers – so we consulted Arnaud who suggested one from Languedoc, mainly Mourvedre with a touch of Carignan, which pointed up the rustic, natural flavours of both duck and pheasant.

 

On to dessert. I’m by no means a Christmas person but the plum pudding and hazelnut chocolate parfait with its brandy sabayon certainly cheered up my non-festive season. We also took a selection of rather good ice creams. The amazing value of this lunch must be now clearly be apparent. We were in self-congratulatory mood for picking the perfect venue for our reunion so indulged ourselves in a Cointreau frappé and an Armagnac, accompanied by, surprise, surprise, a rather good espresso, which, looking back, they missed off the bill.

 

A word on service. My mother, a catering professional of the old school, could recognise good or bad service five miles away, without recourse to binoculars. Halfway through the meal I got the feeling that, were she still with us, she would have been nodding appreciatively at these guys, who got the balance between civility, friendliness and formality just right.

 

The Damage: €99.35, ex-service for 2 x 3 courses, 1 bottle, 1 glass of wine, 2 post-lunch drinks.

 

The Verdict: Get there. This has got to be the best value lunch in town and certainly a candidate for the best lunch exclusive of price. Food, ambience and service, all faultless. Interesting wine list, including some fine Americans. Special commendation for the loos from Esmeralda who is notoriously pernickety about such matters.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

One Pico, Molesworth Place, Dublin 2 Tel: 01 6760300

Pearl Brasserie

At every occasion where restaurant folk gather together whispers of impending doom and gloom abound; pushing the gossip, rumour and scandal, inconsequential chat and merry piss-taking into the relegation zone of the conversational league table.
News of the demise of Poulot’s helped ruin my week and, I suspect, that of many others concerned with the business of eating and drinking. My heart goes out to Jean-Michel and Lorna Jean, two of the nicest and hardest-working people I know.
At the same time, the show must go on. There are covers to be filled and diners to be fed. Sebastian Masi and Kirsten Batt’s Pearl Brasserie, bucked by a couple of recent awards and a tarting-up, seemed to be doing okay, with a near full house on a Tuesday night. The makeover is only gorgeous; warm-but-restrained decor including opulent chandeliers and standing lamps looking like huge bulbs of garlic that I wanted to steal. They have also taken the opportunity to create some small booths that permit intimacy, at least in the emotional sense. Dining here we were, in effect, alone in a crowd as our cosy cocoon afforded a peep at what was going on in the parallel universe of the dining room.
As soon as the personable young waitress sussed that Bunting and I were not an item she pulled the round table forward to give us more legroom. Her precise observation allied to prompt action was the prelude to what was to become a recurring theme throughout the evening. I don’t think I’ve been as well served at a restaurant in years. What’s even more remarkable is that Thomas and Julien, the first team, were not there on the night. In their absence the rest, including a young French guy who’d only been there a fortnight, performed heroics on a par with those of Arsene Wenger’s novice footballers a few days before. As with the Arsenal’s win, it was a team effort. No one copped out or hid or lolled around uncaring. They were all looking out for each other and keeping a weather eye on the diners, just how it should be.
Of course the best service in the world is useless if the cuisine is crap. Having eaten Sebastian’s food before, I had a certain amount of confidence and, on the night, that confidence was not displaced. My crab meat starter banished the memory of a couple of horrible efforts I’d endured in recent weeks. How often do you get a timbale or terrine of crab labelled ‘fresh’ that actually tastes fresh, as in ‘this crustacean has actually been in the sea within living memory’? When on those rare occasions you do, crab meat can taste better than lobster and so it was here. Bunting took the organic Irish salmon with a fennel and orange salad, a dish which stands or falls on the quality of the ingredients. This in no way disappointed.
Bunting chose the wine and I was very happy with her selection, an Arneis. Arneis is a white grape variety originating from Piedmont in northern Italy where it has been grown from at least the 15th century. In Piedmontese, the local language, it means ‘little rascal’ so called because it is regarded as a somewhat difficult variety to grow. It has been cultivated since the 15th century in the Roero region in the hills north of Alba where the famous truffles come from. Wines made from the Arneis grape tend to be dry, crisp and floral with notes of pears and apricots. They are sometimes, disconcertingly, slightly sparkling and disappointingly light in body. This one was still as a mill pond with an impactful mouthfeel that stood up well to our main courses.
Squab pigeon is one of my favourite things, cue for song and the squab ‘two ways’ is something of a speciality of Sebastian’s. The breast, properly pinked, was served interleaved with silky foie gras and the leg came as a kind of grown-up’s lollipop; the shredded meat, wrapped in the skin, was juicy and succulent. It came with a startlingly aromatic black truffle mash. Bunting’s loin of Irish veal looked an absolute picture on the plate, studded with cubes of piquant beetroot in an aesthetic arrangement. You could have hung it in the National Gallery down the street. I’m not into food display for its own sake but this was very striking and tasted good too. We tucked in happily, finishing the Arneis and summoning up a couple of glasses of a civilised Minervois, “a favourite of Julien’s”, so we were told. The mains were accompanied by a bowl of pak choi, lightly drizzled with soy sauce and some precision-cut chips, my personal nomination for Best in Town. Oops, nearly forgot to mention the delight that separated starter and main, a wild strawberry sorbet floating in a small lake of vanilla vodka. You wouldn’t think this would cleanse the palate but it sure did. In fact its excellence caused us to call for a selection of ice creams – we chose pistache, rum and raisin and mango sorbet – for dessert. Coffee (espresso) was fairly priced and fairly decent, though the blend could have been tweaked to give less ‘woodiness’.
For all the above I divvied up €146.90 ex-service, an amount that places Pearl towards the top of the second tier of Dublin restaurants. I came away with the highest respect for the integrity of the ingredients, the high culinary standards, the beguiling décor and, last but not least, the service, which, to this gnarled, begrudging old pro, achieved levels that shouted ‘others please copy’. Restaurants, like any other business, tend to fluctuate. Performance is a ‘now’ thing, tomorrow may tell a different story. But there’s no doubting that Pearl Brasserie is, at the minute, a strong contender for Dublin’s best overall dining experience.
Rating ****1/2
Pearl Brasserie, 20 Merrion Street Upper, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 661 3572

Vaughan's Eagle House

In my penultimate year at school I struggled through ‘Ulysses’ from first page to last. It was a ‘classroom cred’ thing. If you had read both ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Tristram Shandy’ you were considered a literary genius by your peer group. I can’t say the exercise was a pleasure, nor did ‘Ulysses’ bestow an everlasting reverence for Joyce and his convoluted prose – where was David Norris when I needed him?

Nevertheless something must have stuck. When I came to live in Dublin and first saw Terenure on the local map, I recalled Joyce detailing some connection between that village and ‘trams’. Looking it up, I found Terenure Cross, which many call Vaughan’s Corner, was a terminus for the city trams. Indeed, Terenure was once ‘Tram Central’, boasting no less than three depots. Now, ironically, it’s been bypassed by the LUAS.

Notwithstanding claims on Joyce as a son of down-the-road Rathgar, he had strong Terenure connections, including being baptised in the parish church of St. Joseph. His mother, Mary Jane (May) Murray was born in the nearby pub known as The Eagle House. It was to this haven of refuge that a soaking Bangles and I rocked up on a Wednesday night during the recent monsoons.

Terenure would be far from the gastro-suburb of my (or indeed anyone’s) dreams and eating pub food in Dublin is, by any measure, a chancy business, so what were we doing here? I’ll confess we’d received a tip off that Vaughan’s Eagle House was well worth a visit and not just to see the plaque dedicated to Mammy Joyce.

We thought we were on the minute, as a sign read “Food till 8pm” and it was ten-to. However, that turned out to be a hangover from the previous regime no one had bothered to take down. We were directed to the upstairs dining room, which turned out to be two dining rooms, the first an upstairs bar. Beyond and at a slightly elevated level was a charming hexagonal room that offered more intimacy.

The cutlery came wrapped not in napkins but large linen glass cloths, a great idea. The person who invented the dining napkin must have been either a woman or a bloody eunuch. Whoever, did the fool not realise that real men don’t sit with their legs together? Dining out on a regular basis, I am permanently depressed by having to keep picking the damn thing up off the floor and by the cost of the dry cleaning bills.

The wine list was “compiled by Charles Derain, formerly sommelier at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud”. Did this mean “pricey”? No, even the dearest bottle cost €27. We chose a Côtes-du-Rhône at €19, which, though it started out steely, mellowed with the food, something you often find in French wines.

Bangles took the smoked salmon and crab claw salad. Underneath the generous portion of salmon hid cubed salad potatoes, boiled and simply dressed. My fishcakes were as good as I’ve had anywhere, three decent discs, with a crisp breadcrumb coating concealing the perfect blend of fish and potato. Thankfully, there was no smoked fish in the blend. The necessary tangy element was provided by a good, possibly home made sauce tartare and a sparingly-dressed salad.

We both fancied the steak-and-Guinness pie, me because it’s a bar food staple that’s almost always a disaster. I deferred and settled for the lamb shank with colcannon. The pie came in quite a large rectangular dish, looking almost enough for two people, and was topped with a whisper-light puff pastry crust. Delving deep, we found the meat tender and the gravy moist and nourishing. This pie reminded me of my late mum’s and I can bestow no higher praise. The lamb shank was exactly how it should be: meat starting to peel away from the bone but, withal, still juicy, not in dry shreds. Nor could I fault the colcannon. It was beginning to dawn that what was put in front of us was real rustic Irish food: simple, hearty, made with really good ingredients. At the same time, there was an extra element in the cooking; a confidence, a lightness of touch. Much of the bar food around, even when not frazzled under halogen lights, gives the impression that it was slapped up by some chancer whose previous job was slinging hash on a tramp steamer. In contrast, the cooking at Vaughan’s bore the hallmark of a trained and talented chef. The truth of this was rammed home when our dessert, a gorgeous summer berry tart with crème fraîche and (which we asked for) pistachio ice cream arrived. We couldn’t leave without finding out who this paragon was. I can now reveal he’s young, he’s a Breton, his name is Olivier Quenet and his CV includes La Maison des Gourmets, the aforesaid Guilbaud’s and some three-stars in France.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Vaughan’s Eagle House now serves the best bar food, lunch or dinner, that you can get in Dublin and, better yet, at prices we can live with in these necessarily frugal times. Taxis, in true Dublin fashion, stuck €27 on the night out. What we need is more trams.

Vaughan’s Eagle House, Vaughan’s Corner, Terenure Road North, Dublin 6. Tel:
01 490 1251

€67.75 for 2 starters, 2 mains, 1 dessert, bottle of wine

Ambience: ***1.2

Quality: *****

Service; ****

Value: *****

Overall ****1/2

Alexis Bar & Grill

Amateur night at Fawlty Towers. Basil and Sybil had gone to the flicks and left other lunatics in charge of the asylum. At one point there were three (really pleasant) young people clustered round our table. One had a bottle in his hand and was trying to persuade us that it was what we’d ordered, though it wasn’t. Another was apologising, saying no, sorry, the bottle we’d ordered was out of stock. The third was even more contrite, agreeing with my contention that there was no way the wine (correct or no) should have arrived at table after the starters. Dear, oh dear.

I didn’t know my dining companion that well. Just before we met, at a Christmas party, she had been described to me as “an all-round nice person, a really good egg”, a testimonial that caused me subsequently to invite her to accompany me on a restaurant review. I was already thinking her good-eggedness would be severely tested. I had dragged the lady out of the D4 comfort zone to the arse end of Dun Laoghaire to dine at Alexis Bar & Grill and things were going pear shaped, even before the first mouthful. It had to get better.

It did. From the second the Really Good Egg stuck her fork into the smoked haddock flan. There’s a world of difference between pale naturally-smoked undyed haddock and the yellow peril that tastes as though it was retrieved from a fire damage sale. This was the real thing, subtle and succulent. The flan crust, too, was an object lesson in pastry making, retaining a crisp bite and with good flavour. For my part, I took Jane Russell’s ‘Italian sausage’ – and the quote marks are mine. I know Jane; she’s a lovely person and a damn good sausage maker with a with a righteous attitude to using top class ingredients. But ‘Italian sausage’ it wasn’t. I’ve sampled snags the length and breadth of Italy and this one didn’t say “Ciaio” to me. It’s a textural thing. Jane’s didn’t have the seductive ooze of cotechino or the springy bounce of luganega. Hers was more an ‘Italian-flavoured Irish sausage’. The mash that accompanied it was absolutely exemplary, smooth, creamy but not elastic – much of the mashed potato that people point at you these days could be used as chest expanders. It seems we’re so scared of lumpy mash – a throwback to where we were before we got the Tiger by the tail? – we overwork it.

The RGE, like me, has a healthy thirst. Between us, the very smart bottle of Austrian Riesling disappeared in no time and we were ready for some red. Alexis’ list is compact but interesting, obviously put together by someone with a keen appreciation of wine. We lined up a bottle of Cote de Ventoux and awaited the next course. Here the Really Good Egg proved herself to be free range and double-yolked. I think she sort of sensed that I was really up for the crispy leg and pink-fried breast of Challans duck (was it that obvious?) and backed off, opting for the rack of matched exactly the execution of the dish. The pork, which I was graciously allowed sample, was an egg of the curate’s variety, being good where it abutted the bone but a wee bit dry towards its extremities. Maybe a slight re-think is called for because there’s no doubt it was a well-sourced piece of pork. The Cote de Ventoux, a Southern French region whose wines normally punch above their weight, coped perfectly with both mains.

For dessert, the RGE and I split a selection of Irish cheeses, in peak condition, and a delicious fruit tart with crème Anglaise. Coffee was certainly the best so far reviewed. Flavour wasn’t amazing (commercial Lavazza??) but temperature, extraction and crema were about as good as it gets.

It’s maybe time to own up and say I’d been to Cafe Alexis several times before and really liked it. Indeed, I feel an almost avuncular interest in the restaurant’s well being because a full year before it opened its doors one of the proprietors appeared, incognito, on my website quizzing the hardcore food freaks who contribute to the discussion forum as to their likes and dislikes and what might or might not be an appropriate direction to take. By the time it opened my virtual cronies I felt like midwives at the birth. I’m so glad the infant has grown up into a healthy child – Alexis was packed and buzzing that Tuesday night. Few would-be restaurateurs would take the trouble to go to the lengths Pat did. His co-proprietor and brother, Alan, is the chef; with a pedigree going back to two excellent restaurants, Clarets and Morels and beyond.

At Alexis there’s a reverence for really good ingredients underscored by sympathetic treatment of them; there’s nothing fancy or tricked up about the food but it’s all very well done. Authentic French bistro cooking if you like, transmuted into what, given the very reasonable prices, must be the near-perfect neighbourhood restaurant. There should be one for every suburb of Dublin.

Ignore the first paragraph – what a bitch I am!

The damage: £110 ex tip, 2 starters, 2 mains, 2 desserts, 2 bottles of wine, 1 coffee

Ambience: ****

Quality: ****1/2

Service: ***1/2

Value: *****

Overall: ****

Alexis Bar & Grill, 17-18 Patrick Street, Dun Laoghaire Tel: 01 280 8872