13 Merrion Row
Phone: 01 660 2367
A new incarnation of one of my old favourites, now translated to the city centre. Marcel’s French-with-twists cuisine, comforting yet just adventurous enough, is no longer hiding its light under the bushel of a Dublin 4 backwater.
Marcel’s, which is related to The Green Hen, Pichet, East Side Tavern and Opium, has made the transition from being a neighbourhood restaurant into a full-blown city centre gustatory destination. In early August Marcel’s reopened on Merrion Row, just off St Stephen’s Green, in what was once the ill-fated and expensively appointed Il Segreto (which had the misfortune to open just as the financial crash was about to burst upon an unsuspecting world).
The man behind Il Segreto, Giorgio Casari, has long been one of the smoothest and most affable restaurateurs in Dublin and, in an interesting twist of fate, he is back in these premises, as the manager of the newly reborn Marcel’s.
That Marcel’s is making this transition is actually not much of a surprise to anyone who knows Dublin food. It was simply too good to be tucked away off Lower Baggot Street in what had once been a venerable old trattoria called Cora’s on St Mary’s Road.
And it was a bit too smart too. The orange leather bucket seats and the décor (Moroccan, my more observant correspondents tell me) were, frankly, always going to be more at home somewhere a lot closer to the centre of things. Of course, it didn’t bother me. Marcel’s could be anywhere within reason and I’d still travel to eat there. But the décor, the exceptionally comfortable orange seats and, perhaps more importantly, the chef and the menu have all made the journey down Baggot Street to their new berth and they have all arrived unchanged and pristine.
They have been joined by a fine bar and they all have more lebensraum. It’s good to see these premises being used properly.
So, yes, there’s cause for celebration. It’s because of the combination, as always, of the cooking and the atmosphere. By atmosphere, I don’t mean a heady buzz, but rather a quiet sense of being looked after, being attended to, having just the right glass of wine suggested to go with that starter. There’s no fuss, but everything works smoothly and confidently.
The cooking is grounded in French classicism but has travelled widely. It also has a dash of realism and groundedness; there may be modern twists, the occasional funky combination, a strong visual sense on the plate but – and this is the key thing – everything works. It’s quite grown-up food, confident with no need to show off.
The signature dish is the foie gras parfait with roast pear, pain d’epicesand a sweet and sour prune compote. At least, it is for me, and I’m not the greatest fan of foie gras! Scallops with cauliflower foam, pancetta and morels is perfectly judged in terms of texture, sweetness and salt. Cauliflower also features with a perfectly á point breast of chicken with feathery Parmesan. A slow cooked piece of melting belly pork is partnered with mustard mash.
And there are bold tastes too as in the chunky game terrine in winter where the flavour is intense without the bitterness of game in less capable hands. Or the crisped, de-boned chicken leg with punchy anchovy mayonnaise. Heritage tomato salad – a revelation to anyone who is used to the flavourless things that keep in the fridge for years – is both colourful and leaping with flavour. This kind of eclectism is what Marcel’s is all about.
The food at Marcel’s is, in a sense, the definition of what one doesn’t cook at home, except maybe at the weekend if you have a lot of time and experience. It’s considered, just adventurous enough to be still comforting, and pretty to look at it. Add in a more than decent wine list and you have the formula for a very pleasant restaurant indeed, neighbourhood or not.