Michels Cafe and Patisserie is in Foxrock Village, and Paolo has an excellent lunch with Noel Kelly and Lisa Fitzpatrick. Excellent food and cakes worth driving for.
A large part of Michel is the French patisserie end of the venture – you'll find a display counter right in front of you as you enter with an astonishing array of pastries, each one a culinary work of art. With that level of artistry on display, I couldn't help feeling that the lunch was going to be good.
The menu is not surprisingly heavy on the French, but it's not a long menu. Soups, sandwiches and salads make up the lighter dishes and then there's a section of traditional plates, none over €11, that lists a croque monsieur, beef Bourgignon, a lamb tagine and two cassoulets, one meat and one fish.
The soup of the day turned out to be pea and ham, so I ordered that as a starter, only to find I was the only one to have a starter. Lisa ordered a salad Niçoise and Noel ordered the beef Bourgignon, but although they had no starter, they were both planning a dessert. I couldn't resist the cassoulet, one of those earthy and wholesome peasant dishes that has made its way right into mainstream cooking in the south-west of France.
My soup arrived along with some excellent bread so while I ate the soup, Lisa and Noel were able to pick away at bread and olive oil. Looking around I noticed that the tables are well spaced for a café/patisserie, not crowded on top of one another as is often the case. Worth noting too was the service – quick, professional and charming.
The main courses arrived and they looked good. Lisa's salad Niçoise was very nicely made – it's such a perfect good-weather salad with a balance of protein (eggs and tuna), carbohydrates (rice) and greens. It was also a generous portion, giving Lisa plenty to eat and even enough to leave some on the plate.
Across the table from me Noel was tucking into his beef Bourgignon, made exactly as it would be in Burgundy, with beef chunks, mushrooms, carrots, onions and a deep-red and richly flavoured red wine sauce.
Cassoulet, as I've mentioned, is a classic dish from around Toulouse. It's made with haricot beans cooked in a tomato sauce and flavoured with Toulouse sausage. I enjoyed this dish, but the sausage was thinner and lighter in colour than the sausage you get in Toulouse – no great problem, but it would have been nice to have a sausage closer to the original. It's probably worth mentioning that Italy and Spain have their own versions of pork 'n' beans, because beans have always been a staple of peasant food and adding some form of pork to a bean stew made it considerably tastier.
Once we'd finished the main courses it was time to try those extraordinary pastries, so we ordered three, all priced at €4.80. We got a lemon bombe, a chocolate truffle and a raspberry slice. The first thing we noticed was that each dessert is signed, just like a work of art. A chocolate rectangle with the word 'Michel' written on it in edible gold signed each dessert, giving them a lift over and above the ordinary.
Not only did these desserts look good, they tasted wonderful. The chocolate truffle was as rich a chocolate dessert as you're likely to find, but my personal favourite was the lemon bombe, a striking yellow in colour and zesty in taste.
While Lisa and Noel had a tea and an Americano coffee, I had one of the better espressos that have come my way recently. Later I read the menu and discovered that I'd had a Nespresso. It's such a perfect solution for restaurants I'm surprised that more places don't take this route. Yes, it's a tad expensive buying pods at 45 cents a go, but when you're selling an espresso for €2.50 there's a decent margin left.
It's not often I say this, but Michel is worth a detour. It's simple food, but it's well done and the desserts are definitely worth the drive. The bill for the three of us came to a very modest €67.05, terrific value for what we had.