Eating Out: Paolo Tullio reviews Brioche in Ranelagh
'Each one of the dishes was perfectly executed and a couple were truly exceptional.'
Last year one of the restaurants that I visited got me enthused more than usual. It was called Brioche and it was in Aungier Street.
The chef/proprietor was Gavin McDonagh and he's one of those chefs with a CV that lists a lot of very fine kitchens.
What Gavin did in Brioche was what he called "tasting plates", rather like tapas, but the portion sizes were slightly bigger than normal starters. The place itself was quite plain and not enormously comfortable, but the food was very good. It was one of those places that real foodies were happy to frequent because of the food, whereas others found it too uncomfortable for relaxed dining.
The good news for people like that, is that Gavin has found a new premises in Ranelagh and Brioche, in its new incarnation, is rather smartly decorated inside. The level of service in the new outlet is definitely up a notch or two as well, but the prices are still pretty much as they were – the tasting plates are all priced in and around €10.
Last week I dined with Harry Crosbie and his family in a restaurant that Harry had found near Croke Park, so this week Marian and I took Harry and Rita to Brioche, which I explained was one of my finds from 2013.
What I like about Gavin's food is that not only is it skilful, but it also ticks all those other boxes, such as seasonality, locally sourced and imaginative. His menu changes frequently as he keeps up with the changing seasons, but you can expect to find somewhere around 16 dishes to choose from.
To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some of the dishes on the menu: a charcuterie board; a crab, apple and fennel salad; cured salmon served with pickled pear, ginger, soya and wasabi creme fraiche; a beetroot salad; cured and smoked mackerel; wild mushroom tortellini; new season asparagus; oxtail beignet; pork head croquette; cassoulet; pan-fried brill; daube of beef; half a poussin and braised pork cheeks.
While we were making up our minds we also looked around, because the kitchen is open to view. We could see the chefs hard at work. I saw Gavin, then to my surprise I saw Matt Fuller, another really fine chef who is currently in Airfield, Dundrum. When I got a chance to talk to them, it turned out Matt was giving Gavin a hand for the night. So we got two of Dublin's best young chefs cooking for us.
Now I'll add a little caveat. When you change menus frequently there's a chance not every dish will be a winner. Actually that doesn't upset me in any way, because you'll never get truly exceptional dishes unless there's a constant renewal. It's just the flip side of the same coin. Put together an innovative menu and there's a chance some dishes will be superb and others may not reach the same level.
For starters we had the Kilteel crab salad, the wild mushroom and fennel tortellini, the brill and the asparagus. The crab salad was a winner, the combination of apple and fennel has always been one I liked and the dish worked very well. The wild mushroom tortellini had a delicious filling of mushrooms and fennel, and was topped with a pine-nut and roast garlic dressing, but we all felt the pasta itself would have worked better had it been a little thinner.
Marian had ordered the asparagus, which came with a free-range duck egg, a Parmesan foam and truffle. Marian has recently decided she doesn't like truffle (all the more for me) so she had it without, and I have to say it still worked well as a dish. Harry had the brill, beautifully cooked and smothered in a red pepper ragu, which was also very tasty. However, we both felt that good as both parts were, they shouldn't have been together.
The second round of tasting plates arrived: the boudin of trout and scallop roe, seared scallop, langoustine and blood orange beurre blanc; the slow braised daube of beef; rare breed Fermanagh black bacon with cabbage, sprouts, hazelnut and onion salad, and spiced pineapple pickle; the oxtail beignet and the cassoulet.
Each one of these dishes was perfectly executed and a couple were truly exceptional. I thought the oxtail beignets (little fritters) were delicious, accompanied with caramelised onion, carrot purée and spring vegetables. The daube of beef was so tender it could be cut with a fork and the cassoulet – dish of sausage and beans – was also nicely flavoured.
We managed two desserts between us – the rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice-cream and creme anglaise, and a selection of Irish cheeses.
There's an adequate wine list from which we chose a few wines by the glass: a couple of Pinot Grigio, a couple of Saint Estephe and a couple of the really excellent Château Haut Rian, whose praises I've been singing for some years now. The wines, plus teas and coffees, brought our bill to €176.75.
ON A BUDGET
There's a prix fixe menu which offers you two tasting plates plus a glass of wine for €20. There's a choice of seven dishes and they include the mackerel, the Fermanagh black bacon and the half poussin.
ON A BLOWOUT
Arrive with an appetite and you can have the five-course tasting menu at €45 a head. It includes a few dishes that are not on the main menu, like foie gras parfait and a passion fruit panna cotta.
I thought the crab, apple and fennel salad was a cleverly balanced dish that made an excellent spring salad — crisp, fresh and tasty.
For me the combination of brill and red pepper ragu was not a winner. Delicious as the ragu was, it overpowered the brill.
9/10 value for money
Brioche 51 Elmwood Avenue lower, Ranelagh, Dublin Tel: 01 497 9163
Whispers from the Gastronomicon
If you've spent any time at all on the Internet you'll know that there's a great many sites that deal with food. There are plenty of ‘how to’ videos and plenty of recipe sites.
But this week I visited a site that I thought worth passing on to you — eatyourbooks.com. This is a site that searches hundreds of cookery books to find you the exact recipe you wanted. Definitely worth checking out.