Refuel: The Blackboard Bistro ****
4 Clare Street, D2.
Oh, how pleased I was when I first came across The Blackboard Bistro. It was January 2008 and restaurants in Dublin were thriving. Not a week went by that I didn't get a press release heralding the arrival of the hippest new eaterie in town.
Into this foodscape, the Blackboard Bistro arrived so quietly that even the postman and the streetsweeper couldn't have told you when exactly it appeared. The greedy, self-serving wench within me was tempted to tell nobody about it.
But how could she? Here was this Frenchman serving top nosh from a cooker that looked as if it was salvaged from a skip outside a Pre '63. It was everything that new restaurants at that time in Dublin were not: a simple, family-run operation, charging fair prices for sophisticated food.
Well, the world at street level sure has changed since I last ate there, but down below Pierre continues to sauté and sweat as if his livelihood depends on it. And on the Friday night of this review, the place was hopping with full-bellied bonhomie. I found Ui Rathaile in the corner with a glass of red in one hand and Dermot Healy's new novel in the other. I'd had a long day, so he ordered a glass of Jacques Iltis Pinot Blanc to revive me.
The menu was short, set, and to the point -- two courses for €25, or three for €29. The choice of starters was limited: the presence of Greek salad and the absence of terrine troubled me. I fall back on terrine when nothing else appeals. Ui Rathaile accused me of being inflexible, and then ordered the Greek salad.
Well, he got what he asked for: a joyless ensemble of scantily dressed lettuce leaves, flavourless tomatoes and cucumber, not enough red onion to make an impact, strangely mild and milky feta, and nary an olive.
This wasn't the start I had hoped for, but the chicken feuillete brought quick consolation. Despite resembling a glorified vol au vent, it hit all the right notes. The crisp, airy layers of pastry were golden and buttery. The filling -- flavoursome pieces of chicken breast, mushroom and smoked bacon -- was coated in a creamy white wine sauce with a kiss of thyme. Oh yes, monsieur, this was much more like it.
Ui Rathaile seemed to have struck up a rapport with the wine waiter, whose talent for spotting a near-empty glass was uncanny. I felt so excluded from their tales of misspent youth, sipping Côtes du Ventoux in Montmartre, that I insisted on getting a bottle of Pierre Amadieu to go with my ribeye. Then, in a misguided attempt to be au fait with the Gallic way, I ordered my steak cooked medium, because that means rare to a Frenchman.
The ribeye arrived medium, as ordered. It was gorgeously charred and crowned with a slow-melting pat of garlic butter. Inside, the rich juices bubbled with flavour, but two minutes less on the pan would have meant more of them. Mea Culpa. It came with cubed potatoes fried in goose fat with garlic and salt -- so good, they just had to be bad for you.
Ui Rathaile's roast duck breast was sumptuous and sweet. It came on a bed of spiced lentils, which had a gentle curried quality.
We were in no rush to leave and they were happy to let us dawdle over our wine, until we had an appetite for dessert. I'd previously tried the tiramisu -- not very French, but very delicious -- so this time I went for the profiterole, which failed to change my opinion that it's a vastly overrated confection. But oh mon Dieu, the fruit crumble was divine.
Thus our evening ended on a high note. I waddled home to bed with a sense that all was well with the world. So gratifying to see three years' hard work pay off.
TYPICAL DISH: Braised beef cheek
RECOMMENDED: Magret of duck
THE DAMAGE: €126.90 for two starters, two mains, two desserts, two coffees, one bottle and four glasses of wine
ON THE STEREO: Jazz
AT THE TABLE: Regulars
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