14-15 Trinity Street
Phone: 01 677 1060
Irish Daily Mail
14 May 2016
It has been an exciting time for the gastrognomes of Dublin. Not only has the brilliant Forest Avenue produced offpsring in the shape of a bouncing baby Forest and Marcy on Upper Leeson Street (on which I’ll be reporting after a decent interval) but the new and, dare I say it, improved Pichet is back in business after an extensive revamp and rethink.
It’s odd to realise that Pichet opened as recently as 2009. That was not an auspicious time to do anything in Ireland apart, possibly, from emigrating. So bold and so new was Pichet back then in the gloomy old days of austerity Ireland, that its arrival delivered a much needed kick up the arse to what was a pretty somnolent restaurant scene.
The new version is still all about Stephen Gibson’s cooking but there’s a new bar, a more sensible entrance, the colour scheme has become more subdued and confident and the windows now have obscured glass so that diners don’t feel as if they are on display to the foot passengers of St Andrew’s Lane.
Take my starter of scallops with mushrooms á la Grecque and pancetta. The salty tang and crunch of the pancetta is an old friend of the seared scallop but the mushrooms, a modern, delicate twist on an old 1960s bistro staple, was inspired, adding a further texture and an acidic cut for the richness. It looked simple but was, in fact, anything but, and seriously thoughtful.
Fine, sturdy spears of asparagus – none of your perennial Peruvian stuff, this was local or as local as possible – came paired with a poached egg, perfectly cooked to the nanosecond, plus skinned broad beans and a very intense, silky hazelnut emulsion.
This dish also involved delicious little confit chicken wings and, to be honest, it started to feel like a light main course. Would it have been better without one of those elements? We thought so, while we protest that it was no hardship to eat. There was a perfectly clean plate at the end.
A word about our amuses bouches. Fabulous. Okay, I’ll elaborate. Pea soup, with lemon oil, a little fleck of creamy ricotta and a tiny croqueta, tapas style, of Iberico ham, was sensational, a symphony of flavours in which each one came across loud and clear.
A rich, buttery, velvet parfait of foie gras came with sherry jelly (something that needs to be a bigger part of my life), pickled walnut and – here’s the brilliant bit – immaculately crisp pieces of chicken skin. Wow!
Halibut, a thick slice of this exceptionally meaty fish came with a delicate fennel bisque that brought out the natural piscine sweetness while the whole thing was balanced nicely by a tart but earthy, green tasting herb vinaigrette.
The confidence of Stephen Gibson’s cooking is best underlined by a dish which I’ll do my best to describe while realising that you can’t put into words the actual experience of shovelling it into one’s mouth.
Essentially, it was a variation on the theme of southern fried chicken but using guinea fowl, on the basis that it simply has lots more taste than your average chicken, even the well brought up ones. The breast was roasted (but perfectly moist, of course) and the thigh had been given the buttermilk treatment and came encased in crisp batter. There was remarkably buttery, creamy creamed fresh sweetcorn, fondant potato and spinach.
See what I mean? It sounds very pleasant but it was way beyond pleasant. It was simplicity delivering masses of pleasure, and that’s what I mean about confident cooking.
Sherry is, at last, very much “a thing” in the better restaurants, both as a drink, especially in its dry forms, and increasingly in dishes. We shared a sherry créme brulée, perfectly textured, quite liquid, fabulously rich with a sweetness that comes from the intensity of Pedro Ximenez. This is the wine that is used to sweeten sweet and medium sherry (because all sherry starts life dry, and most of it is better like that).
Did this cracker of a dish – simplicity again – really need the small doughnut filled with pineapple purée. No, to be honest, but we would have missed that gorgeous, fruity tartness.
Our bill, with wine, coffee, plenty of mineral water and first rate, enthusiastic service came to €147. Not cheap, but you can pay the same and considerably more in Dublin for a meal that doesn’t come close.