It's been a while since I reviewed a lunch; for some reason I tend to go out for dinner instead. And yet I enjoy a good lunch. I can remember Dublin a few decades ago when lunch commonly lasted from midday to 4pm. Quite how much work got done after these long lunches I can't say, but what is definite is that those heady days are well gone.
These days, lunch can often be a sandwich sitting at a desk, which may be more productive but it's not as enjoyable. Indeed, a new report suggests that it may be bad for your health to take no break in the middle of the day.
Obviously, eating at your desk is cheaper than eating out, but these days there are some extraordinarily good deals available to those who lunch. It's possible in Dublin at least to find a two-course lunch for less than €10, which isn't much more than you'd spend on a sandwich and a drink.
I was in Dublin this week at lunchtime and so I arranged to meet Sinéad Ryan. The restaurant has been in a basement on Pembroke Street for some years now and I last reviewed it in 2005.
It has recently opened a café bar upstairs in the same building, which I was tempted to try, but the thought of a proper lunch won the day and Sinéad and I headed downstairs. We stopped for a moment to look at the menu displayed outside and Sinéad said, "I wonder will we see Gerald Kean? He eats here a lot".
Downstairs we were greeted by Olivier Meisonnave, who owns it. People with very long memories may recall that Olivier was Kevin Thornton's sommelier before he opened Dax, which explains the long wine list. He showed us to our table and we started with the menus.
There were two -- an á la carte and a set menu. The set menu had four starters, four main courses and four desserts to choose from and was priced at €23.50 for two courses and €28.50 for three. Oddly, the Ã la carte had fewer choices -- three main courses and three starters, and they were priced very much in the upper price bracket -- starters from €12 to €18 and mains from €28 to €31, plus €3.80 for side orders.
To put this into perspective, I have to say that there is a very high level of service in Dax; professional and expert. You also have a table set with good napery and quality glassware, which goes some way towards putting the prices into context.
We decided to eat from the set menu which, given the surroundings, is better value than the á la carte.
There were a few starters that looked interesting to me, especially the poussin and the sauté squid. Sinéad was torn between a salad with crumbed egg, blue cheese and croutons, and the broccoli soup.
In the end, she chose the soup with the sea trout to follow, while I picked the poussin to start and the asparagus and pea risotto for my main course.
The wine list is pretty impressive. It's long, well sourced and more than a little pricey. It runs to 20 pages, but there's only about a dozen wines that come in at under €30, and those are in the upper Â¤20s.
The menu may have changed in line with the new austerity, but the wine list hasn't.
We chose a half-bottle of Albert Pic Chablis, which was listed at €29. As a comparison, last week in Cistin Eile a full bottle of Chablis was €27.
It was after we'd ordered that I heard a "Hello, Paolo" and I turned round to see Gerald Kean, who had come over to our table. After our 'hellos' he asked what we'd ordered.
"You didn't order the squid? It's the best starter on the menu. I'll get Olivier to send you some to try, you'll love it."
Sure enough, the first thing that arrived at our table was a dish of squid divided on to two plates for us to try. I have to admit Gerald was right: the squid was properly cooked and tender and was served with a herb salsa and chilli jam, making it a very good dish.
After that, the starters that we'd ordered arrived, a rather plain broccoli soup for Sinéad and the poussin for me. I asked Sinéad what had made her choose the soup.
"All the starters are quite hearty dishes, and I'm having the rather delicate sea trout, that's why." She had a point: the menu didn't have the usual goat's cheese salad, and at first glance looks more designed for the male appetite that the female one.
The soup was good, if a little plain, and I enjoyed the poussin, which came with pickled mushrooms and candied hazelnuts. Then came the main courses -- the sea trout, which came with boiled potatoes, asparagus and a very good salsa of tomatoes and cumin, and the risotto for me.
The risotto was good; for once the rice was cooked as it should be and the peas and asparagus supplied the contrasting crunch.
Of the main courses, I think I had the better of the two. These days, wild sea trout can't be sold, so what you get in restaurants is necessarily farmed. Even the best farmed fish have less flavour than their wild siblings.
Sinéad couldn't resist the cherry and hazelnut 'financier', which is a moist French sponge cake and not a banker. I had the vanilla crème brÃ»lée, which came with a delicious raspberry sorbet and a shortcake biscuit. These were two very good desserts which finished off our meal nicely. Two espressos brought our bill to €96.10.
23, Upper Pembroke
Tel. 01 676 1494
VALUE FOR MONEY 7/10