Les frères Jacques: Grand prix for dated cuisine
Les Frères Jacques may be cartoonishly French but there’s nothing funny about its prices
And the point is it’s not 2013 in Les Frères Jacques. With the food they serve here, you could be in Zenon Geldof’s 1920s Dame Street restaurant Cafe Belge (now a chipper), or in Jammet’s with a Beatle dining in one corner. We are in a place that is unapologetically, time-warpingly old-fashioned and as French as a Pixar movie about a French restaurant.
You can picture Quirke and Phoebe dining here in one of John Banville’s 1950s Benjamin Black books. And Quirke would claim he’s not drinking because he’s only having white wine.
And they do the classics well. Warm French bread has the proper biscuity crunch to its crust and tastes a world away from the rubbery sticks we call baguettes. A duck confit (€3.50 extra, folks) on a potato galette with an onion marmalade has that sweet-savoury thing nailed, with salty, crisp-skinned duck and onions that have been sugared to ramp up their natural sweetness. I get six native oysters (one big fella and five tiddlers) with a pot of shallot vinegar and a muslin-wrapped lemon. They’re creamy and luscious as wild oysters – which grow more slowly than farmed ones – tend to be.
Sole meunière is the epiphany dish that set Julia Child on her French cooking adventure. That’s how classic it is. Here, it swims to you on a fish-shaped plate in a sea of melted brown butter with parsley. It’s a nice whole piece of black sole, but the side vegetables are a real letdown – green beans, broccoli and a peeled spud that tastes of dishwater. They’re veg of ye-olden-times when no one cared about veg. A beef en croute, with a lamb cutlet (€9 extra) is competently cooked meat, still pink in the middle of its crisp pastry lagging jacket. Sadly, it too comes with the Vegetables that Time Forgot.
A chocolate mousse served in a cupcake ceramic is grainy and tastes like it might have split, although it has a lovely smooth Cointreau crème anglaise in a jug for compensation.
“Who eats lunch like this anymore?” my husband asks, leaning back in a butter, cream and wine daze. The answer that day is no one, apart from us and a young female American intern (in an empty restaurant you hear everything, including the phone conversation the waiter has about the bins). You step back out into the laneway and the 21st century. Do they care about being dated and cartoonishly French? I think, like an Edith Piaf tribute act, probably not.
Lunch for two came to €124.14 (including another extra: the 10 per cent service charge).
THE VERDICT: Nostalgia food but at a price that puts it in the Michelin bracket
Les Frères Jacques, 74 Dame St, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6794555
Facilities: Down steep, narrow stairs
Music: Michael Bublé at one point
Food provenance: None
Wheelchair access: Yes