10 South Main Street
Co. Kildare
Phone: 045 89 7070

Irish Daily Mail
10 October 2015

How do you find the kind of restaurant that you’re going to enjoy? Well, it used be word of mouth and then along came the guides, kicking off with Egon Ronay, I suppose. Which was followed by lots and lots more.

I’m acutely conscious of this because I recently launched my own website, and while it’s certainly a guide to restaurants, there are parts of the country where it’s not very relevant.

This isn’t always because there are no decent restaurants in such places (though you might be surprised how far you can travel without finding one) but because I tend to concentrate on where the restaurants cluster: Dublin, Cork and, to a growing extent, Galway.

If you want to know the state of play in eating out in the capital or the real capital by the Lee, I can help. The bar to entry on the website is very high, I don’t include places that are “you know, like, fine, okay”; they have to be exceptional within their own category.

And no, I don’t do plaques. There will be small, discreet stickers but no plaques because I think they have become a plague and, frankly, some of them are just downright ugly.

Anyway, my coverage of Kildare is about to increase by significant margin now that I’ve discovered Bouchon. I already know and love Vie de Chateaux, The Ballymore Inn and The Brown Bear. No doubt there are other serious contenders but, unlike some of the other “guides”, I’m a one man band; I don’t have a team of inspectors on my pay roll.

Anyway, at first sight Bouchon could be a restaurant anywhere in Ireland. It’s above a pub, pretty neutral in terms of décor, the kind of place that seems designed so as to avoid frightening the horses.

And then comes the menu which, as the late Paolo Tullio would say, reads well. It does so because of the key ingredients, the touch of Francophilia and an absence of the kind of wild eclecticism that invariably ends in tears.

The chef (an Irishman who, according to our waitress, “is in love with France”) knows exactly where to stop and uses sound materials.

Oh, of course, there’s a touch of elan and even a suggestion of panache, too, but it’s the discipline that counts.

One of our starters was bistro cooking defined: a tartine (based on a slice of good sourdough bread) of Brie with onions cooked with just enough sweet/sour balsamic vinegar, spiked with salty tapenade of black olives and dished up with a smartly dressed little salad. Simplicity itself, inexpensive ingredients transformed by a bit of thought and skill.

The other starter was, again, supremely uncomplicated: a generous dish of langoustine tails, firm and juicy, cooked simply in butter seasoned with garlic and a good squeeze of lemon juice, flecked with finely chopped parsley and surmounted by a little salad of baby rocket leaves. This kind of dish brings a considerable degree of luxury to the bistro ethic.

I was going to say that the duck confit main course was just how I do it at home, but that would be a wild exaggeration. I do it similarly crisp outside and moist inside, I do it with lentils and with a mash that’s nearly as buttery, but I don’t have the intense, slightly sticky reduced jus that made this such a professionally stylish dish. It was old-fashioned, uncompromising, nostalgic, with no bells and whistles. Oh, apart from a very rich and rather good duck spring roll on the side of the plate. So, not at all like I do it at home.

Our other main course was more on trend. Belly pork is not so much on trend, as a cliché but here it was transformed: slowly cooked and presented as a kind of slim brick, very neat and angular, presented on a shallow bed of – follow me closely here – crunchy cabbage and lardons of bacon in a buttery, creamy dressing. And there was buttery, creamy mash on the side, nicely piped in a retro gesture.

Sounds too rich, maybe, but this was a carefully judged dish, delightfully simple and clever with that riff on bacon and cabbage.

The downside was that puds were out of the question and I’m guessing that we missed something good, given the overall standard and style of this modest, unassuming little place in Naas.

With one glass of wine, a soft drink and a coffee, the bill came to €65.30.