Café en Seine
40 Dawson Street
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 677 4567

Irish Daily Mail
2 February 2019

Café en Seine, when it opened in the heart of Dublin 2 back in 1993, was one of the very first superpubs. Not one of those vast, sprawling barns that grew up in the suburbs during the 1970s but the new sort: big, beautiful (according to one’s taste), busy and designed for entertainment, in the broadest sense, and not just sculling pints.

These days the traditional pub is dying. The solely Guinness, Smithwick’s and Tayto-if-you’re-lucky pubs may have a certain basic, nostalgic appeal, but the world has moved on. The sort of people who, thirty years ago, might have toyed with a vodka and orange are now larruping into cocktails, no less. And, heavens above, wine has gone, you know, mainstream.

Even restaurants have caught this entertainment bug and lots of consumers are saying (to market researchers) that food isn’t really what they are looking for when eating out. They want the totality of the experience; and restaurants want you to come for aperitifs, eat and drink, and then have a digestif, all in the one premises.

The €4m refurbishment and development of Café en Seine has resulted in a vast establishment carefully crafted to look as if it has been here – possibly transplanted, brick by brick, from Paris – since the days when the combination of fin de siècle and art deco were in vogue. It’s impressive and just restrained enough.

Now, in a place like this, even with the creation of a dedicated restaurant and a proper bar menu, there’s always a danger that the food may be… well, just a form of entertainment. There are plenty of lovely spaces with impressive bars around town that seem to have had a food by-pass.

Owners, the Mercantile Group, had the sense to put their brightest and best in here as executive chef in the person of Stephen Gibson of their other – very lovely – establishment, Pichet.

The result is a delightful menu and first rate execution in an environment that certainly feels special – rather decadent, in fact – but where you feel you could put your elbows on the table.

We had something of a Dutch treat as my companion wanted to taste as much of the menu as possible, something I wouldn’t attempt as a rule thanks to my notoriously small appetite. But it was revealing.

Gloriously savoury duck wings turned out to be properly meaty duck legs, slow-cooked, tender, varnished with miso, soy and other deeply savoury things.

Jerusalem artichokes and spinach had been combined with cream and cheese and some kind of kitchen alchemy to produce a deeply comforting, warming and, again, savoury mess that was consumed in jig time with tortilla chips that are baked in-house.

Scallops on the shell cooked with the deeply lamby, fatty flavour of merguez, to the nanosecond of doneness, were explosions of layered flavour.

Tuna sashimi with little cubes of watermelon, dressed with ponzu (the Japanese citrus), soy and sesame were properly trimmed and appropriately melting in the mouth in this raw state. But why put such a combination on a dark dish? It was as unattractive to look at as it was good to eat.

And then, madly, we had the the côte de boeuf, all 750 grams of it, immaculately cooked, well on the rare side of medium, attractively charred outside, moist and bloody and minerally inside, ready-cut in slices. This came with chips, sorry fries; same difference. They were okay, but undistinguished and would have been better for being fried in duck fat or dripping. A hollandaise enriched with onion cooked overnight, was a rather lovely bonus. And there was the only bum note of the evening in the form of a sweet “jus” that did nothing for the sum of human happiness.

But that meat… it was €70 worth of carnivorous delight and, yes, of course, I took most of it home. And it provided several further over the following days.

My part of the bill, for two starters, the côte de boeuf, mineral water and a bottle of Rioja, came to €134.