Refuel: La Cuvée
1 Burton House, Mayor Square, IFSC, Dublin 1. Telephone: 01 605 4912
A reader emailed me recently wanting to know if I'd gone "soft in my old age", or if perhaps a "direction had been issued from on high" to cut back on negative criticism because there was enough doom and gloom in the paper as it stands.
Loath as I am to disappoint the misanthropes and conspiracy theorists who are misguided in counting me as one of their own, there's no agenda behind my recent flurry of positive reviews, nor can they be put down to editorial interference.
It's quite simple really: restaurants are improving and I've had a lucky streak. But last week my luck ran out -- not with a catastrophic bang, it was more of a slow puncture.
I went to La Cuvée with the Home Economist on a Friday evening. We were the only customers aside from a couple, who were apparently on their first date, and a sombre work party, whose paper hats made them look like a confederacy of dunces. Annie Lennox was wailing "Why?" on the stereo and, funnily enough, I was wondering the same thing myself.
As if to answer, the Home Economist assured me that La Cuvée is very popular with the business lunch crowd. Attracting a dinner crowd is a different matter entirely, though, because when darkness descends La Cuvée, like the rest of the IFSC, becomes deserted. I won't pretend to like the location -- it looks and feels like an abandoned film set.
If you could change the CD and transplant La Cuvée to a livelier location, would it be worth going to? I decided that it would. The décor is attractive, the seating is comfortable and prices sensible. Then there's a menu that's refreshingly fuss-free, offering French bistro staples including croque monsieur, duck confit and beef Bourguignon for lunch, while dinner is more refined.
Starters include French onion soup with gruyère croutons (€6), chèvre and beetroot salad (€7), and foie gras with toasted brioche and apple and plum chutney. The Home Economist chose scallops (€11), which were golden, buttery and precisely seared to melting point, and juicy prawns, again faultlessly rendered.
Duck rillettes appeared in the guise of a salad, with frissée lettuce, prunes and an arguably redundant mango salsa. Although there was plenty of duck, properly shredded and moist without being too fatty, I had reservations. Firstly, it was served cold, almost chilled; secondly, it required a pickled element to cut through the richness of the duck. Finally, it should have been served with bread.
The pace of service was very much in keeping with lunchtime schedules and needs to decelerate. I was still masticating shreds of duck when my tuna fillet appeared. Cooked medium-rare as requested, it was a good meaty chunk of fish, topped with Niçoise sauce that had plenty of tomato, olives and anchovy, but not enough oil, garlic or herbs.
Budget options on the main course menu included chicken a la crème and spinach, and ricotta ravioli with truffle shavings -- both of which cost just €12.50. No such austerity for the Home Economist, though; she stayed mid-range and ordered the duck à l'orange. It was old school, but, sacré bleu, it was good. The grilled duck breast was exceptionally tender and intensely flavoured; the orange rind in a decorative curl, its syrup and zest seemed to dominate the roast carrots and parsnips rather than the duck -- not a complaint, merely an observation.
The dessert menu needs a shot of inspiration -- or at least a tarte tartin. Not tempted by the choice of brownie, brûlée or profiteroles, we shared a plate of French and Irish cheeses, which came with good crackers and grapes, but without introduction or explanation as to what we were eating. In terms of wine, you won't improve on La Cuvée. We stuck to French by the glass: Chateau de Pizay Beaujolais -- both rouge and blanc were outstanding value at €6 a glass. Still, with so many excellent new restaurants about the town, La Cuvée will have to work harder to lure customers off the beaten track.