14-15 Trinity Street
Dublin 2
Phone: 01 677 1060

The Irish Daily Mail
8 September 2018

Lunch has always been the best value approach to eating in what you might call serious restaurants, and Dublin just now seems to be a good place for eating in the middle of the day. It’s interesting to look at prices in the heart of the city – four restaurants all within about a 5 minute walk of each other.

Peploe’s do an all-day or pre-theatre menu from noon until 6.15pm which weighs in at €31.50 for two courses, €37.50 for three, while The Ivy, just around the corner, does something very similar, but with rather less choice, for €19.95 for two courses, €24.95 for three. Dear old La Cave, deep below South Anne Street, offers two courses for an unbeatable €14, while Pichet does a menu that runs from noon until three and then from five o’clock until 6.30pm offering one course for €16, two for €22 and three for €28.

Which to choose? Well, I suppose it depends on mood. Graeme Dodrill’s cooking, reviewed here recently, means that Peploe’s is now doing a refined but generous take on traditional bistro, The Ivy it seems is partly patchy food, partly rather camp theatre, La Cave is good traditional bistro cooking, i.e. no frills, keenly priced, good with wine.

And Pichet? Stephen Gibson’s food here is bistro but on the cusp of the finer, more finicky stuff but without ever – if you like – falling in. Pichet is about balance, about laid back efficiency with informality, it’s a well-oiled machine that makes very difficult things look easy. It’s also one of my favourite places in town.

We repaired there for lunch on a Monday and, to be honest, were enchanted. It was quiet, but not too quiet, the pace was faultless and the food was ace.

An amuse bouche of a little cube of raw tuna, almost indistinguishable from its partner cube of watermelon, dressed with soya and sesame, performed a little dance of joy on the palate. Okay, we were hungry, but this was, quite simply, beautiful.

A mushroom risotto was perfect in texture (it slumped, as it should), deep and earthy in flavour and, even better, came with crisp little croquettes of sharp, tangy goat’s cheese.

Our other starter was salt cod (hurray! at last!) beignets, each topped with a slice of crunchy, translucent cucumber and gathered round a dollop of chorizo mayonnaise which had us wondering why we don’t see more of the stuff.

Onwards, and even upwards, to main courses and roast organic salmon, cooked to the point of perfect just-doneness (no cheating by leaving it slightly raw in the middle, something that is all too common). This came with grilled broccoli anointed with a kind of Caesar dressing and little lengths of confit squid, tender but still with something of a chew. Smoked almonds completed a dish that was unexpected, complex yet deceptively simple. Clever cooking, that knows where to stop.

I can’t remember when I last ate chicken in a restaurant. Too often it’s the animal kingdom’s answer to tofu, merely a texture, a vehicle for actual flavours. Well, the free range chicken at Pichet drove away such thoughts.

Naturally, it was crisped outside, perfectly moist inside, tasting of actual chicken. With this estimable bird came a shallot purée, mild but sweet, seasoned with fresh sage. Tiny, almost embryonic white turnips added a different kind of sweetness, and very welcome it was too.

Onwards and even further upwards, strange as it may seem at the stage of contentment we had now reached.

This was the first time in years I’ve seen the magic words “île flottante” on a menu. And there it was, a poached meringue of unimpeachable delicacy sitting in a shallow pool of crème Anglaise and topped with slivers of strawberry in a light coating of syrup with fresh mint. Eating all the elements together, this dessert became not so much a dish as an experience. It was ethereal, heavenly.

By contrast, a perfect espresso crème brulée, seemed almost pedestrian but in a delicious way, delivering the kind of pleasure you get when something tastes and feels exactly as you want it, have expected it to do. Simple, but far from easy.

With a 500ml pichet of Californian Chardonnay, mineral water and coffees, the bill came to €99, to which we added a tenner in recognition of first rate service.