‘Fresian’ food on Dawson St

The cooking at Amuse is more French than Asian but it’s a fresh take on the stalwart bistro model

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Address: 22 Dawson St
Telephone: (01) 6394889
Cuisine: Fusion
Website: amuse.ie

It's a scary moment. If you smile back at the mime clown will you become his next victim? The danger passes when a nearby woman mimes joy at his approach. The clown plucks a flower from the kind of hanging basket that would give Frank McDonald a conniption. Then he rushes to his music player to swipe up the volume. A cinematic swell (from Amelie I think) swamps the street as he presents his floral love token. Everyone on Dublin's South King Street cracks a smile. We are all gently amused.

It’s a beautiful evening in Dublin and I’m on my way to Amuse. It’s pronounced “a-muse” by the French-accented waiter who took the telephone booking earlier. Not “amooze”, as in bouche; the exuberant morsels that fine-dining kitchens send out to their diners to tantalise their taste buds.

The restaurant is on the Stephen's Green end of Dawson St. It used to be Harry's, a black-fronted old-school place. Now it's painted sludgy French country-grey and has spindly metal cafe tables outside. It's the new venture of former head chef of Pembroke Street's Dax, Conor Dempsey. He's taking French food and fusing it with Asian. You could call it "Fresian" if that didn't sound a little bovine.

There are bare, heavy wooden tables. There’s a wall of genuinely old brick which looks lovely but adds a musty tang of dampness to the air, but that’s old buildings for you.


So the Paris meets Tokyo shtick means you get chopsticks and cutlery. Those chopsticks spend a lot of time resting on their black stones. They’re not much use for the cubes of Sunday roast-dinner lamb.

The most successful mash-up comes excitingly at the start. It’s an egg-cup of smooth curried butternut squash purée with a dot of coconut gel on top so it looks like a reverse egg – all yolk with a tiny splodge of white. We use the small wooden spoons to get to the tea brown miso gel at the bottom which turns it from good to spoon-lickingly satisfying. “That was delicious. I’d like a big bowl of that now,” my friend Mark says, grinning happily.

His starter is the only dish of the night that’s more East than West – a plate of pan-fried Asian prawns nestled like vertebrae on a coconut sauce, topped with pickled red cabbage.

My quail is two tiny limbs of soft skin on meat laid out on a square glass plate with splodges of sweet, sticky sauces, small fig quarters, and a juicy medjoul date. There’s a cube of “chickpea curd” which has a nutty, cheesy feel and flavour. The most exotic thing is half a pink pickled-onion that tastes of rose water. “Mmmm. Not sure if it works but it grabs you,” was the agreed verdict.

Then there’s that roast rump of mountain lamb, presented in classic modern-French style on a plate dotted with sweet white turnips and charred onions. The meat looks great but is curiously flavourless. In contrast, the small mound of pink kimchi that comes on the plate has a kick like a Thai boxer. My hake with saki and mussel emulsion has become hake with clams as the mussels are off today. It’s none the worse for the substitution.

Crumbled Roquefort cheese comes so beautifully-styled on a long plate that it looks like a magazine shoot. However, the lovely, room-temperature cheese isn’t served well by the leathery blackberries and outsized raspberries that look better than they taste.

Mark’s pear William comes on what looks like ice cream, sliced wafer-thin by a mammy who’s trying to make the block stretch to a larger than anticipated 1970s birthday party. It is in fact a marshmallow which makes the whole ensemble a touch rubbery.

New ideas in restaurants are like cringe-free street mime. They’re trickier to pull off than they look. Dempsey can cook and he’s opened a restaurant with a fresh, new idea. But Amuse is definitely more Larousse than Laos. I’m not convinced that the Asian elements add coherence to the cooking. I think this is a restaurant that can play to his strengths by amusing, rather than bemusing, its diners with simple well-cooked French food. Dinner for two with three glasses of wine and coffees came to €109

THE VERDICT: 6.5/10 An ambitious addition to midrange Dublin dining Amuse, 22 Dawson St, Dublin 2, tel: 01-6394889 Facilities: Downstairs Music: Low-level background pop Food provenance: Suppliers rather than producers listed Wheelchair access: Yes Vegetarian options: Limited

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests