An authentic taste of France in south Dublin
It’s a bake off this week between Le Daroles in Auch, France and a bistro in Dublin
- 9 Georges Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin (01) 2836880, Blackrock
- (01) 2836880
- € € € €
There’s a dog doing what dogs do in the corner of an old photograph of the Gascony town of Auch. The striking thing about the picture, hanging in the foyer of the Hotel de France, is that outside things are pretty much the same since it was taken maybe a century ago. The hotel is still open for business. Beside it stands the town hall and across the road sits the cafe Le Daroles. The cafe is still there. It’s still called Le Daroles.
French restaurant culture, which set standards around the world, might have relinquished her crown to the new kids of Spanish and Scandinavian cooking. But those roots go deep. We are sitting outside Le Daroles doggedly insisting on staying under the heavy grey clouds. A hot spell has broken with a thunderclap earlier. The waiter thinks it’s going to rain. We’ll risk it.
There are no huge expectations that an off-the-beaten-track restaurant in a town square is going to be anything wonderful but then, delightfully, it is. Everything simple and good, such as a bowl of fluffy goats cheese, so fresh it’s more like a curd without the honk of the billy-goatish older cheeses. It’s drizzled with a pale honey and studded with some Parmesan tuiles. Across the table gleaming sardines are rolled around small mouthfuls of potato with a sauce made from basil and olive oil.
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Lightly cooked mackerel
Then fillets of lightly cooked mackerel are laid on a slate sideways with some raw chunks of fish dotted around and the gaps between the fish filled with barely blanched peas, broad beans and finger-sized carrots. There’s an open beef raviolo, thready, juicy slow-cooked meat sitting on top of a flap of house pasta, with another lid of pasta on top. A chocolate concoction like a posh Wagon Wheel and two kinds of ice cream with an apple sorbet topped with crunchy house toffee wind us off just before the sweetest moment of all: our three courses come in at €23 a head. It’s an anecdote of a meal that comes with its own in-built question. Why can’t we eat this kind of food this reasonably priced at home?
Irish restaurateurs will point to rents (Le Daroles feels like a building willed down through the generations) and other costs. But then I hear about Le Pastis. It’s a newish French restaurant in Blackrock in south Dublin and sacre bleu if they’re not doing a €23.50 early bird menu. Time for une bake off.
Le Pastis is on George’s Avenue, in a modern building across from a kitchen showroom. Glasses are gleaming and napkins are folded in crisp squares on the tables. There is a dark laminate floor and a Hallmark canvas of a couple dancing in a mythical foreground of the Eiffel Tower. There is one other diner sitting looking out the window.
I decide on a ridiculously French selection which couldn’t get more Gallic if it was served by Gerard Depardieu in a cloud of blue Gauloise smoke humming Edith Piaf. I’m starting with frogs’ legs, moving onto boeuf bourguignon and ending with creme brulée. I’m not even sure they serve this combination in France any more. Le Pastis is un-irony in restaurant form. They really mean it.
My friend is sticking to that €23.50 set menu, although his veal comes with a €6 supplement. I’d forgotten how much frogs’ legs are like anaemic chickens, pale flesh surrounding elastic bones. They’re juicy and good served on a salad, with citrus zest and tiny cubes of celery in it. More goats cheese, this time a slab from a log which looks uninspiring but is saved by its temperature. It’s served warm and surrounded on its slate and a nice variety of beets, pureed, braised with golden beets fried into crisps.
Mains are meaty. There’s the juicy veal served with crisp bacon and the nifty touch of a spoonful of tiny green rhubarb slices. A fondant potato tower looks dry but a good spud has gone into it so it’s great. My boeuf bourguignon comes in its own hot pot with slippery button mushrooms and thready beef. It’s not as boozy or reduced down as this dish can get, making it less wintry. There’s a touch of the hotel diningroom about the side vegetables, carrots parboiled so they’re cooked on the outside and still chewy inside, and a dry tower of mashed potato. Desserts are more than competent. The best is the chocolate tart in a biscuity base served warm so the chocolate does an oozy melting thing, making it so much more delicious than a fridge-chilly slice. We finish with good coffees.
Le Pastis is a hardworking French restaurant which looks modern but has some very old classics at its heart. I’d like to see it flap a bit of fresh air through the menu, taking a summery feel to the table as well as the evergreen stuff. In the meantime Blackrock has got itself a decent French bistro to bring the solid, reasonably priced set menu experience home.
Dinner for two in Le Pastis with a glass of Malbec, sparkling water and two coffees came to €81.60. Dinner for two in Le Daroles with tap water came to €46
Le Pastis, 9 Georges Avenue, Blackrock, Co Dublin (01) 2836880
Le Daroles, 4 Place de la Liberation, 32000 Auch 00 33 562 05 00 51
Music: Background jazz in Le Pastis, traffic and swifts outside Le Daroles
Food Provenance: None in either
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Limited
Verdict: 7/10 If you hanker after old-school French cooking Le Pastis is your place