You might get the urge to throw a leg in the air on the pale wooden floor in Brioche. Except there's not much room between the tables for jigs or reels. If the floorboards in this Ranelagh restaurant could talk they'd speak of springy ringlets and fervent hopes from their previous life in an Irish dancing hall in Cricklewood.
So we learn after dinner in this new place which used to be a McCambridge's bread kitchen on a residential redbrick street just off the village's main drag. The big question for the owners was how to make a production kitchen feel like a restaurant with roots? They decided to kit it out with more salvaged material than an episode of Reeling in the Years . There are Welsh church doors, panelling from the Bailey Court Hotel in Howth, Art Deco-ish lights from the old Russell's across the road, and that Cricklewood dancing floor.
Brioche is the latest venture of chef Gavin McDonagh who extended his daytime cafe in Aungier Street into an evening one (Brioche Ce Soir) last year, serving tasting plates. In the shift from the grittier south city to the heartland of posh, fanciness has gone up a notch.
Brioche Ce Soir served classic French bistro dinners on small plates for small prices. Here there’s a little more cheffing going on, in a good way. The menu consists of just over a dozen briefly named dishes. Beef, mackerel, duck . . . that kind of thing. The waitress explains they’re larger than a starter but smaller than a main course. Each day they cook a brioche with a different flavour. Tonight it’s a perfect caramelised onion version. Each plate is about €10.
My beetroot and Délice de Bourgogne (creamy French cow's-milk cheese) salad looks like the spilled contents of a penny-sweet bag. There are candy-striped slices of beet, Calpol-coloured beet meringues that dissolve with a puff into tooth-sticking clumps and creamy islands of cheese mousse.
As the purple beets spill their juice into the pinkness, the plate resembles a massacre in a My Little Pony factory. Toasted hazelnuts provide a warm crunch and there are tiny shards of blood orange. It’s fun and, more importantly, delicious.
Yetti has an elegant glass of mandolined crisp green apple and fennel layered with white Kilkeel crab meat. It’s a model of restraint compared to my riot of pink and the kitchen has resisted the urge to blanket the crab meat in heavy dressing, letting the clean threads of meat sing with its own briny voice.
Then there’s a chicken and black pudding boudin, a white flecked sausage with pudding on briefly fried kale. Tiny rounds of Jerusalem artichoke crisps add a smokey crispiness. There’s a plate with potato three-ways: shoestring chips, a soft cake of sweet potato slices inter-layered with slices of celeriac and a roulade of potato with goats’ cheese and pesto.
By now the small restaurant has filled to the gills. Sliding out between the tables demands flexibility and industrial levels of control so as not to bring a set of wine glasses crashing to the floor. At the next table a man laments how shouty it’s got. There’s a sweet spot between churchy whispers in a restaurant and bawling across the table. We’ve passed it long since here.
In all the kerfuffle (at one point a table of women leaves en masse for a cigarette break) my duck plate is forgotten. When it comes it’s a slight disappointment. It’s a nice piece of meat but had been billed as hop-smoked, and comes without any hoppy or smoky flavour. Its elderflower jus just tastes like syrupy gravy.
A poached pear with salted caramel ice-cream scores a hit, a rhubarb dish less so – there’s too much dairy dull mascarpone and not enough of the tangy pink spears of rhubarb.
By the look of the happy crowd Brioche is wowing Ranelagh residents, no mean feat in this restaurant-heavy village. While fitted out with bits of the past; with good ingredients and clever cooking Brioche has a bright future.
Dinner for two with three glasses of wine and sparkling water was €92.35.
Brioche Ranelagh, 51 Elmwood Avenue Lower, Ranelagh, Dublin 6,
THE VERDICT: 8/10 Friendly neighbourhood restaurant with ambition
Food provenance: Locations named rather than producers
Wheelchair access: Yes
Vegetarian options: Varied, interesting