Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Review - L'Ecrivain

If you were to judge me on my restaurant visits as documented here to date (the only other being Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud) you might think I have too much money, very expensive tastes or both. You would be wrong.

February is The Birthday Month Chez Us and treating each other to a special meal out has come to be something of a tradition. And, this year, it being the big three-0 for me (and the smaller two seven for him) we decided to go mad and and go Michelin.

L'Ecrivain is located on Baggot Street, Dublin 2 and has held a Michelin Star since 2003. The name  means The Writer in French and, if you look carefully, you will see nods to this theme dotted about the place, such as this little bronze Oscar Wilde.

I had been here twice previously. Once for their (now discontinued) €23.50 lunch and, more recently, when a Menupages promotion helped to shave a welcome chunk off what was hefty dinner bill. But I had never had the Tasting Menu so, for the month that was in it, we decided to go all out and splurge. I had enjoyed a tasting menu just once before( on a cruise ship ) and so was really looking forward to it.


L'Ecrivain's rotating ten-course Tasting Menu is posted weekly on their website and my email queries on this in the week leading up to our booking were answered promptly and helpfully. Not sure how far Keith was willing to tread down the path of mad food, I was given the welcome assurance that any course could easily be substituted for something from the a la carte menu. And you really can't say fairer than that. (In the end, however, he chose, like me, to try what was on offer that night.)

We arrived five minutes early for our seven o'clock booking to find that the dining room had not yet opened and so opted for a glass of fizz at the bar.  The drinks came with some nice nibbles (olives and nuts) which we were careful not to eat too many of given the feast we hoped was in store.

Shown to our table fifteen minutes later, we found ourselves alone in the restaurant. Indeed, there were only a couple of other diners there up to 8pm when the restaurant did fill up, though nowhere near to capacity.


The bread basket consisted of a lovely gently sweetened wholemeal, mini sourdough and a surprisingly light black pudding bread. Despite our best intentions, we couldn't help devouring the lot.The waiters had seemed genuinely happy that someone had gone for the Tasting Menu and we did seem to be the only ones that night.

Our greed was rewarded from the outset.Whilst other diners around us received just one of a selection of Amuse Bouches, we were served all four at once. Above was a cold,salty,set mushroom taster which I was not keen on. It was served with a dark rye cracker which, I'm guessing was tying in with the woodland theme and designed to look like a piece of bark.Unfortunately, it tasted a bit like one too.

We were also given these little deep fried brawn balls with a beetroot puree.These were encased in a thick breadcrumb coating and were nice but unremarkable.

A couple of thick but melting slices of gravlax were the highlight of this course, the final component of which was some rabbit salami (made, if I recall correctly, from the flesh, heart and kidneys). This was tasty but the jelly that held it together would have worked better for me teamed with a thin cracker/a little piece of bread and unfortunately, we had eaten all of ours at that stage!

Our first 'proper' course was Scallops Squid Ceviche, Fennel, Seaweed Macaroon.  This was one of the standout dishes for me featuring a huge perfectly caramelised scallop I just did not want to stop eating. The seaweed macaroon was super-cute, though much more sweet than the salty hit I had been expecting.

Next up was Monkfish Potato Aioli, Broad Beans, Iberico, Baby Gem Lettuce, Chanterelles, which was another favourite. I have had tough monkfish more times than not but this was beautifully soft. All in all, a perfectly balanced and really morish plate of food.                    

We were finding our food stride now and a Buck’s Fizz Palate Cleanser was up next. This was a tangy sorbet with popping candy and a fruit coulis but I gobbled it up before I remembered to take a picture.

'And now we go a little crazy' announced the waiter as he delivered the next dish - Foie Gras ,Seared, Clementine & Almond Pavé, Clementine Purée, Cromesquis. He wasn't wrong. Having only previously sampled foie gras in pate form (and enjoyed it very much) I had been optimistic about this but found the rare liver and 'Cromesquis' with its fatty,sweet, molten centre a step too far for my tastebuds. Visually, this was an absolute work of art but not a dish either of us would order again.

Squab Pigeon Hay Poached Breast, Celeriac, Quinoa, Hazelnut Dressing, as you can see, had a lot going on on the plate. I had expected the meat to be served rare but, in truth, it was almost raw (and quite cold to boot).In fact, this whole dish was served noticeably colder than the others and, for that reason I didn't enjoy it so much.

The wine must have been kicking in here because, as you can see, I dug into my beef before taking a picture. This was Dry Aged Hereford Prime Beef Fillet, Oxtail Raviolo, Root Vegetables, Ravigote Beignet, Shallot & Buttermilk Purée and it was, on the whole, very good. However, the little biegnet was filled with a strong vinegar laced buttery filling we didn't enjoy so much.

We were offered a break at this point but chose to plough on, as much for fear that our bellies would catch up with our mouths as anything else. This was the first dessert - Thai Textures Rice Beignet, Coconut & Mango “Egg”, Piña Colada Sorbet. Here, our second biegnet of the night went down much better than the first, containing a yummy sweet sticky rice. Fruity desserts wouldn't generally be my first choice but I did enjoy this very much, especially the cute and tasty little 'egg'.

I am a huge carrot cake fan and Carrot & Walnut (Spiced Carrot Cake, Candied Walnut Ice Cream, Chantenay Carrot Confit, Verjus Sultanas)was a very good interpretation of this classic cake, though the icing seemed to me to be more of a buttercream than the more traditional cream cheese icing.

And so, the end was nigh, and was announced with a top class espresso

And what had turned out to be an epic three- hour meal finished on a serious high with these exceptional petit fours.

I didn't love everything on L'Ecrivain's Tasting Menu but, then again, I hadn't expected to.  However, the amount of effort and skill that obviously went into each component of every plate was incredible and the high quality of the produce used really shone through.

Another real jewel in this restaurant's crown is its wait-staff. The fine line between professionalism and familiarity can be hard to balance, particularly in a higher-end restaurant like this but I am strongly of the opinion that Michelin service doesn't have to be stuffy. At L'Ecrivain they deliver stellar service with a smile.

The meal over and nicely fortified with too much food and booze, what could we do but head back to the bar for a nightcap and to listen to the resident piano player belt out some some cheesy classics.

This visit to L'Ecrivain was a rare and special treat for us and, crucially, it felt like one.

(The Tasting Menu costs €90 per person.)

No comments:

Post a Comment