Bijou: Putting a buzz in the ’burb
Bijou in Rathgar has upped the game for the out-of-town dinner
Rathgar. For dinner. It’s not a prospect to set my heart racing. The well-heeled Dublin village is preserved in the aspic of the Jimmy O’Dea song Thank Heavens We Are Living In Rathgar. As the lyrics go: “There are some quite decent suburbs, I am sure. Oh Rathmines is not so bad or Terenure. Oh we’ve heard of spots like Inchicore, But really don’t know where they are. For, thank heavens, we are living in Rathgar.” Kilmainham, Fairview and Drumcondra all get a mention in the song that doesn’t read like it was written over half a century ago.
But just when you think Rathgar is all smug and boring, a village stalwart goes and reinvents itself. Bijou Restaurant has a new chef and front-of-house team and things have been shaken up.
Bijou has been banjaxed as a word by estate agents, who’ve used it as a euphemism for pokey and tiny. But Bijou Restaurant is neither. It has all the proportions of the typical Carvery and Communion establishment and sits on the Rathmines side of the crossroads. There’s a flat screen telly that shows a blazing fire, deep bucket leather chairs and lots of dark wood. The lighting is low enough to require a braille menu option. And tonight it’s buzzing with an early-bird crowd.
Chef Ian Ussher is the man who’s filling seats here. He’s cooking two courses for €20, before 7.30pm. We’re throwing caution to the four winds of Rathgar crossroads and taking a canter through the a la carte.
The starters are luxury ingredients presented bistro-style. There are three Castletownbere scallops for me, seared so expertly in butter that they’re a sandwich of crisp outer skin and silky sweet flesh. They’re snuggled in a duvet of mousseline potatoes and topped off with a wafer crisp piece of bacon. Mark’s lamb kidneys are light and crisply fried in a rice-like bowl of orzo pasta laced with truffle oil and sprinkled with shallots.
The wine list is ordered from sweet to dry in the whites and light to heavy in the reds, which makes nice logic. We each get a glass of French sauvignon blanc.
It’s the main courses where the profound flavours lie. They’re where you see that Ussher is a chef who has spent time in Mickael Viljanen’s Greenhouse restaurant kitchen, and done a stint in San Sebastian restaurant Arzak. Here, he’s taken some great ingredients and distilled them down to their essence. There’s a round of rare-breed pork fillet cooked just to heart-breaking pinkness and then rolled in a fresh herb crust which, I’m guessing, includes some horseradish. It’s the best piece of pig I’ve eaten all year. The girolles alongside it taste of apple. Two feathery langoustines give their sweetness to the party, which finishes with expertly-done sprouting broccoli. The only wobble is a wedge of pork belly which has tooth-sized pieces of gristle in it.
The second main course of Slaney Valley lamb is another masterclass in meat. The sweet fat turns an already excellent piece of lamb into a put your fork down and execute an eye roll while chewing kind of treat. Dotted around the dark glazed plate are heirloom carrots, wilted spinach and teeny pillars of fondant potato. We get a side of green beans with enough truffle oil on them to grease a small pig.
They have us at hello with the special dessert description: warm chocolate brownie and honeycomb ice cream. It’s a touch too sweet for me, but my apple crumble served in a generously portioned glass has juicy sultanas studded through the apple.
Going out in the neighbourhood can feel like a consolation prize when you can’t get a table in town. But not here. Ussher’s terrific cooking is putting a buzz in the burbs. He’s turned Bijou into a restaurant for which those lucky Rathgar residents can thank heavens. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine came to €113.40.
THE VERDICT: Game changing cooking comes to carvery country
Bijou, 46-47 Highfield Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6, tel: 01-4961518
Music: Nice jazz
Food provenance: Fair. Those Castletownbere scallops and Slaney Valley lamb with Kettyle Irish Foods, Wrights and Keelings name checked.
Vegetarian options: Lone starter, one main.