Since Derry and Sally Anne opened L'Ecrivain a stones throw from the present location, this restaurant has produced some of the best food in Ireland. For a Michelin Star restaurant it manages to appear relaxed, and the room positively sparkles of and evening. Always in Paolo's top five; "This was a faultless meal, beautifully presented and expertly served in a comfortable room. If you're interested in gastronomy, you should eat here."
L'Ecrivain was the first of the Michelin-starred restaurants to institute set lunches and dinners at very affordable prices. Marian has a small appetite, so we decided that she'd dine from the à la carte, while I'd go the full seven courses of the set dinner.
Normally in restaurants of this quality opening the wine list can be a frightening experience. You would expect an eye- watering mark-up and, normally, that's exactly what you get. In L'Ecrivain, though, you can find decent wines beginning at €25, no more than you'd pay in some very ordinary restaurants. With only one of us drinking -- me -- a bottle looked de trop, so instead I picked an excellent Pinot Grigio by the glass.
A trug of good and very fresh breads was brought to the table with five kinds to choose from, and we studied the menus. I liked the fact that they are short -- very long menus tend to worry me, because the dishes are probably made well in advance or, worse, they could be frozen waiting to be de-frosted. Here, the à la carte gives you a choice of five starters and five main courses -- not a huge choice, but you know it's all cooked to order.
On the set dinner there were only two choices to make: a choice between two starters and two main courses. Marian chose the duck liver to start and followed that with halibut, and I had the lime-cured salmon to begin and the cod fillet for my main course.
The first dish to arrive at the table was an amuse bouche, a cappuccino of butternut squash which was surprisingly flavourful. Squashes as a rule aren't exactly bursting with flavour, but this little demi-tasse had plenty of it. It was a delicious start that set the tone for our meal.
Next came the starters proper and Marian had a perfectly cooked slice of duck liver, quickly flashed in a hot pan and served equally quickly. She devoured it with a gusto I've rarely see in her, while I had a half-inch thick round of salmon. Lime-curing is common enough in South America and the effect is to give the salmon the texture and look of gravadlax. It's just as easy to overcook with lime juice as it is with heat, but my piece couldn't have been done better.
Next came a palate-cleansing granita before the main courses arrived: halibut for Marian and cod for me. It was these two courses that demonstrate exactly why this restaurant gets so many awards. The main part of both dishes, the fish, was expertly cooked, just as you'd expect it to be, but what really elevates what L'Ecrivain does to true gastronomy is that every element on the plate -- the carefully prepared mirepoix, the little dots of sauce so delicately placed on the plate -- and every little thing had been carefully considered, precisely flavoured and prepared to the highest standards. Maintaining standards like this is no easy achievement, but with Derry Clarke himself back in the kitchen supervising the pass I have no doubt those standards will stay high.
After the main courses came our pre-desserts, tiny tastes of the pastry chef's art and exquisitely done. By the time our shared dessert proper of crème brûlée came we were both very well fed. Coffee, tea and petits fours ended the meal. Three glasses of wine plus three bottles of mineral water brought the bill to €183.35, to which an optional service charge of 12.5pc was added, making a grand total of €206.27.
This was a faultless meal, beautifully presented and expertly served in a comfortable room. If you're interested in gastronomy, you should eat here.
L'Ecrivain, 109A Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2. Tel. 01-661 1919