23 Upper Pembroke Street
Phone: 01 676 1494
Irish Daily Mail
17 October 2015
They say there’s art in lunching well, and there are certainly impediments to doing so, such as modern life and the challenge of finding somewhere to do it.
The age of the leisurely lunch, a high proportion of it liquid and intoxicating, is long gone although it persisted, in some quarters, right into the 1970s. There were stockbrokers, solicitors and, no doubt, the occasional journalist who disappeared from the office for about four hours in the middle of each day.
The more austere amongst them confined their lunching to Fridays, a day that was largely written off. The upper echelons of the medical profession, I’m told, favoured Fridays on the basis that they could not reasonably be expected to operate, in any sense of the word, at the end of the week.
How times change. To parody for a moment, if such a thing is possible, Uncle Monty in the film Withnail and I, we live in an age of tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches, frappucino in paper cups and fatless yoghurt. (Now, there’s a film with a massive payload of food and drink references, come to think of it).
The more serious challenge to lunching properly is where to do it. Essentially, the number of restaurants that open for lunch is in direct proportion to the density of population. There are whole swathes of Ireland where lunch extends only to a pub sandwich and a bowl of soup and where restaurants, where they exist, open solely for dinner and then mainly at weekends. It can be bleak.
Dublin, however, has a long and rich tradition of lunching and despite the modern age and the new puritanism, it offers a vast amount of choice. Recent highlights for me included a return to L’Gueuleton on Fade Street where the plat du jour (what a civilised idea) was Jane Russell’s Toulouse sausages with lentils; and The Pigeon House in Clontarf where a terrific lunch in the suburbs concluded with a slice of impeccable Délice de Bourgogne, a cheese that is half way to being butter.
Dax is one of those restaurants that has been quietly going about its business for years, without making a fuss. This Dublin 2 basement, tucked away where Pembroke Street meets Leeson Street, is so self-effacing that I’ve included it on my list of “hidden gems” for the Zomato website, simply because it’s so easy to overlook.
And that would be a great shame. I returned there for lunch the other day and was bowled over by the sense of continuity. The cooking here has always been excellent and I was concerned that the departure of chef Conor Dempsey to do his own amazing thing at Amuse on Dawson Street might have meant a dip. Not a bit of it. Tomas Morawski carries on the tradition seamlessly.
A starter of wood pigeon (revenge for their attacks on my cabbages) was deep and earthy, the breasts just seared and served with a silky hazlenut and celeriac purée with the sharp kick of pickled mushrooms. Sea bream, just cooked through, came with sweet confit fennel, simple and clever.
Simplicity was also the keynote in a daube of beef, meltingly tender in a dark, glossy reduction that can only be achieved with long cooking, a lot of red wine and very careful seasoning. A proper old fashioned mousseline of potato, laden with perfectly amalgamated butter made the right kind of partner.
Confit duck leg is so debased these days that most restaurants don’t even bother cooking their own version and simply buy it in for microwaving and finishing in the oven. Seriously. It’s rampant.
And that’s why I ordered it at Dax. I had a shrewd notion that it would be done properly, and so it proved. There was moist meat encased in properly crisp skin and the support of classic haricot beans, intensely savoury, intensely French.
A pannacotta put me in mind of dear old Paolo Tullio because it conformed to his essential requirement, namely a considerable degree of wobble. He used to point out that the average pannacotta could be used for playing squash, so rubbery are they. Mixed berry bread and butter pudding was ethereal and came with a deliciously concentrated vanilla ice cream.
This one was just set – again, proper judgement is the theme – and it was topped with a sharp, sweet, seasonal plum compote that provided the ying, or possibly the yang, if you see what I mean.
With coffee, and a bottle of wine, the bill came to just over €100.