Local pride on the plate
EAT OUT:How do you keep a south Dublin stalwart fresh after years of solid service? With a little local pride and a healthy scepticism of passing fads
FOXROCK VILLAGE. Not so much a village as a freshly painted set for the next Maeve Binchy film adaptation. First there’s the almost luminous-white cast-iron sign as soon as you leave the conveyor belt of the N11 saying, “Welcome to Foxrock” (where nothing bad can happen other than one’s electronic gates breaking down). Then there’s the row of village shops, the butcher, the florist, the boutique and the salon ending with a storybook wooden fruit and veg stand that just needs an apple-cheeked striped-apron greengrocer in front of it.
All this timeless village prettiness (we’ll avert our gaze from the Texaco station plonked across the road) is the setting for one of south Dublin’s stalwart restaurants, Bistro One. Blink and you would miss it. It has a turn sideways and sidle in narrow glass and chrome front door. The signage is almost bashful, as if you have to be an insider to know it’s there. Up the steep carpeted stairs the whole thing broadens out into a fully fledged restaurant at the top.
It’s a knack to keep a Dublin village vibrant so close to the magnetic pull of Dundrum and the river of tail lights heading to the city centre. It’s an even bigger knack to keep a restaurant as busy as this one gets on a wintery Wednesday night. I’ve booked late enough in the day to find myself at a table around a corner from the main restaurant. It feels a little like an afterthought space but there’s a toasty radiator, with comfortable wooden chairs, heavy linens on the tables, and whip-smart service.
There’s something swan-like about Bistro One. All is calm serenity above water while the legs are peddling furiously beneath. Here the work has gone into the ingredients. An earlier first glance on the website found alarming things such as strawberries, but that turns out to be an old menu. There’s nothing on tonight’s menu that I’m not growing or seeing grow around me, including pears. Just that afternoon we brought in our pear harvest. One lone specimen, perfect but for a flattened bruise where it landed after one too many footballs hit the spindly tree. We sliced it, wolfed it down and declared it the best pear ever.
I’m eating with my dad. There’s a set menu for €25 for three courses and an a-la-carte. It’s only at the dessert stage that I notice the smaller-print 10 per cent service charge. A standard wheeze during the boom years, this is the first compulsory service charge I’ve seen in a while. I think most people leave a 10 per cent tip anyway but feel slightly grumpy at having it crow-barred out of them at the end of the bill.
The starters are small but gorgeous. I get the wild duck (€10), served as a small, thick slice, brilliantly cooked to a treacly brown skin-on and a teeny confited leg with matchstick bones. It comes with a mound of apple and celeriac remoulade, not the French supermarket version drenched in Dijon mayo, but a lighter, fantastically tasty treatment. The apple and celeriac have been diced into matchsticks and then marinated in a light balsamic and flat-leaf parsley dressing. It’s gorgeous. A fig chutney is a touch too sweet but nice with the duck.
I get a taste of dad’s calamari and a pang of nostalgia for all those summer barbecues I never had this year. The squid salad pieces have that smokey, just-off-the-barbecue flavour and are buried like tasty nuggets in a good fresh salad. The deep-fried calamari rings taste like the best Spanish summer holiday on a plate.
We order a glass each of house wine (€8), a merlot and a chardonnay. They come in jugs that pour to slightly more than a glass.
Dad’s main course – pan-fried cod with a cauliflower mash and apple, raisin and caper puree – is excellent. The fish has that crisp, fried in bubbling butter finish on top of the skin, with fresh white flakes underneath. The cubes of apple and blobs of caper are little punches of flavour around it. A side dish of mashed turnip is good (plenty of butter to take the school-dinner feel off it) and thick firm French beans perfectly cooked. A small side dish of floury chips is a little underwhelming.
My main course of saddle of rabbit (€23) with a rabbit cottage pie is a teeny bit of a let-down, as it’s very salty. I try peeling off the pancetta to get the meat without the salt taste but it’s been cooked right through. The mashed potato on the cottage pie also tastes salty. But in the middle of the plate there’s a mound of beautifully fried pale green cabbage, full of flavour and brilliantly cooked.
I finish with a blueberry and apple crumble (€7), which comes with a vanilla custard and toasted hazelnuts hidden in the crumble. Dad’s Wicklow Blue cheese plate is again a small portion with a few grapes in a small pot.
There’s an impressive respect for ingredients going on in Bistro One and also the sense that this is simply how they’ve always done things, rather than just another passing fad.
3 Brighton Road, Dublin 18, 01-2897711
Facilities: Clean and pleasant
Wheelchair Access: No
Music: Blissfully absent
Food provenance: The website has a list as long of your arm of the people behind the food on your plate. The owners also press their own olive oil from their Tuscan olive grove. The fresh oil typically arrives on the restaurant tables in November.
Local food: Place on a plate
“Local and seasonal” is the new “organic”, a phrase you will grow weary of seeing on menus. But whether it is genuinely freshly grown or reared close to where you’re eating it is hard to judge. In a new campaign called Place on a Plate aimed at restaurants not already serving uniquely Irish food, Fáilte Ireland is encouraging restaurants to start small by delivering one or two dishes on the menu to reflect the locality, and regional food traditions. “Make sure your front-of-house staff know the recipes, provenance and source of the food you serve and food history and traditions of the region,” Fáilte Ireland advises. It also recommends that chefs and restaurateurs get to know their local-food producers and bring staff to meet them “so they can get a feel for their produce”. The message that tourists want unique experiences, not the generic fare, is finally starting to sink in.