There are few Irish restaurants as accomplished as this one

Restaurant review: Classic cooking with just the right amount of creativity

   

Dax

  • Proprietor: Olivier Meisonnave
  • 23 Upper Pembroke St, Dublin 2
  • 01 676 1494
  • dax.ie
  • Irish

Tempting as it is, I am not really a Michelin Guide basher. And, to give them their due, they had started to pop over on a much more frequent basis before the Covid spanner was hurled into the works. But – and of course, you knew there was going to be a “but” – it does seem that there’s considerably more brogue dragging when it comes to recognising talent this side of the Irish Sea.

Chapter One was operating at an extremely high level for years before it bagged a star, and don’t even get me started on the wait for The GreenHouse’s second gong. They can say what they like about why it took so long, but they might also see fit to do a bit of compare and contrast with some of the London two-stars. One high volume wheeze comes to mind: Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, run like a well-greased machine with a massive instruction manual. Or perhaps this counts as consistency, one of the most important Michelin boxes to tick.

And then there is Dax, a restaurant where all the stars align. It is owned by Olivier Meisonnave, who worked for years in Thornton’s, which, yes, had two stars back in the day. He is arguably the best maître d’ in the country, and one of the most respected sommeliers. And heading up the kitchen is Graham Neville, who worked with him in Thornton’s prior to his tenure in Residence. You’d think the tyre guys would be clamouring down the steps to this clubby Georgian basement, but I’m not sure that that has been the case.

As you may have guessed, I was in Dax pre-lockdown, and can now bring you a truly joyous here’s-one-I-prepared-earlier as we head back into our favourite restaurants for Christmas.

The lunch menu has four courses – starters, fish, meat and desserts/cheese – with different price points for two, three and four courses. We opt for three courses (€39) and skip the meat course, so, reasonably straight forward when it comes to a wine choice – white – you would think.

The wine list here is deep and dangerous, panic inducing for most, but a delight for those with Bordeaux and Burgundy level pockets. In these situations, I always indicate my budget, and ask for advice, and I am rewarded with Meisonnave’s suggestion of the Tursan ‘Gros Manseng Carpe Diem (€40), from a region close to where he grew up in Dax. It is mineral and textured, and €3 cheaper than the bottle I was considering.

Dax restaurant: The lunch menu has four courses – starters, fish, meat and desserts/cheese – with different price points for two, three and four courses. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times
Dax restaurant: The lunch menu has four courses – starters, fish, meat and desserts/cheese – with different price points for two, three and four courses. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

For starters, my quenelle of sweet, fresh Clogherhead crab is served out of the shell in a yellow pool of sweetcorn puree, little dots of popcorn add to the texture of the dish, and sea herbs add another maritime note. Our other starter of pork belly is tender and succulent with a nicely judged sauce and nutty Beluga lentils.

On the fish course is a courgette flower stuffed with Dublin Bay prawns. It is of course, a seasonal dish, so won’t be on the current menu, but it has become a bit of a signature dish for Neville, so stick a note in your calendar for next year. The courgette flower is stuffed with a prawn mousseline and sits in a rich bisque, which is tempered with lemongrass and ginger, keeping everything in balance and ensuring it doesn’t overwhelm the more subtle flavours of the prawn.

Our other fish dish is roast ray wing, delicate and fresh tasting, languishing in a nutty brown butter sauce along with baby courgettes, small cubes of baby turnip, seaweed and young samphire. If you’re skipping the meat course, you might like to have a side dish with these two dishes, the pomme puree is just €4, as are the French beans.

There is just one dessert option, a classic French strawberry tart with a delicate cherry sorbet, or you can go for the cheese, which surprisingly, doesn’t carry a supplement. The cheese here is in notably good condition, and includes a chevre from the Loire, Cashel Blue and a gooey Epoisses. A 10-year-old Tawny Port (€12) goes splendidly with it.

This is classic food with a few flourishes. There are no bitty bits, nothing is served on stones; it’s low key and delicious. Maybe the gong lords find this just a little bit too safe, but that would be to completely miss the point. It is consistently good and one of the best restaurants in the country for a special night out.

Lunch for two with a bottle of wine and a glass of Port was €130

Verdict: 9/10 One of the best lunches in the country
Music: Low key, really good blues
Food Provenance: Top quality Irish ingredients and French cheeses
Wheelchair access: No
Vegetarian options: Yes, and a vegan menu
Facilities: Compact but good, individual hand towels