23 Upper Pembroke Street
Phone: 01 676 1494
Dax’s food is touched by French classicism but rooted in great Irish produce, the dining room itself is intimate, club-like, comforting with its crisp linen napery and proper cutlery. The arrival of Graham Neville as head chef in May 2017 promises even greater things.
I go back a long way with Dax. When I was just out of single digits in terms of age, I used to visit a great-aunt who lived in Pembroke Street. She would take me across the road to what was then The Grey Door, a restaurant that stretched back, I think, to before World War II. It was suitably grand, or so I thought at that tender age, for my distinctly grand great-aunt.
In time, of course, The Grey Door went the way of all flesh and Olivier Meisonnave, himself a native of Dax – not the hair product but the town in Les Landes – opened the eponymous restaurant very quietly in 2004.
There is a quiet, calm quality to Dax, a kind of enveloping sense of warmth, hospitality and understated elegance to whole experience. I hesitate to say that it’s not all about the food because the food is genuinely exceptional. But I would be at pains to point out that Dax is not just somewhere to eat.
There’s a sense of community about it too. A lot of customers are very local and very regular but nobody feels themselves to be an outsider in this cosy dining room on Pembroke Street. Indeed, ask anyone about Dax and they will almost invariably talk about the warmth of the welcome, whether it’s a returning customer or someone who has blown in off the street.
Amidst the crisp napery, sparkling stemware and subdued, elegant décor (where less is very definitely more), Olivier and his team look after the customers with quiet efficiency.
Its short, beautifully chosen menus underline the fact that brevity in this area is almost always a harbinger of good food. Dax is also a restaurant that has seen some very interesting and exceptional chefs come through the kitchen, notably Conor Dempsey of Amuse. It was remarkable how the food here moved seamlessly from his hands to those of Tomas Morawski and now to the brilliant Graham Neville, formerly of Restaurant 41 at Residence. The hallmarks remain constant: a backbone of French classicism with an openness to excellent Irish produce, a disciplined eclecticism and a foundation of lovely, comforting cuisine bourgeois. And let’s not forget the distinct touch of elegance that marks out the work of the kitchen at Dax.
Although it’s in a basement, there is no sense of being hemmed in; indeed, the tables are so generously spaced that Dax is a good choice for a discreet lunch where you don’t want to be overheard. Lawyers, journalists, gossipers are all to be seen engaged in confidential conversation.
I’m too young – not often that I can say that – to be sure of this, but I have an idea that Dax is, in a sense, the heir to the old Jammet’s that closed in 1967. Smaller, of course, much less a slave to tradition, but carrying onthe honourable calling of bringing French elegance and hospitality to a new generation of Dubliners. Jammet’s had very little turnover in the way of staff; the same goes for Dax. For example, the two kitchen porters have been here for over a decade, something that may be a record. Alan, the manager, has been there as long.
So, there is a lot absolutely right about Dax and that includes an excellent wine list with plenty of attention given to the middle ground so it’s not necessary to spend into the upper bracket in order to get something interesting. This is something I’d like to see more often round town.
Olivier Meisonnave is a missionary and we are very lucky to have him, his loyal team and his restaurant – a very personal restaurant – in our midst.