Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin 2
For the past few years, I've been a bit of a Scrooge over Christmas -- no tree, no decorations, no turkey. I took a perverse pleasure in avoiding the whole enforced jollity of it all.
Not last Christmas, though. This time, I did the whole traditional Christmas -- twice. Once on Christmas Day, and then again with another turkey on St Stephen's Day. I'll admit it was hard work, but it was very enjoyable.
Good presents were given to me to create further pleasure, and two of them in particular resulted in this week's review. I was given a voucher for The Shelbourne Hotel and also one for a meal in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud.
The obvious thing was to combine the two and make a night of it.
I haven't been into The Shelbourne for quite a while, but when I arrived there with Marian Kenny, I was struck by the warmth of the welcome.
By the time we left the following day, after an excellent breakfast, I was convinced that there's been an impressive renaissance in this iconic hotel.
The skill of great hotels is to combine two things: a sense of ease and comfort, together with a strong element of professional skill. Not an easy thing to pull off, but I left The Shelbourne sure that they had achieved just that. It was a pleasure to see that grand hotel back on form.
It was just a short walk from The Shelbourne to Patrick Guilbaud's, and we arrived bang on time for our booking.
I already knew what I wanted for my main course -- veal sweetbreads, as it's one of their signature dishes and one that I love. Happily for me, it was still on the new menu, which has been restructured for 2012.
The pricing has been simplified, so a starter and a main course is €85, add a dessert and it's €105, or have four courses and it's €130.
The other options are the four-course tasting menu for €90, or the eight-course tasting menu for €165.
The wine list is the size of a family Bible and runs to a lot of pages. The wines listed go from around €40 to many hundreds, the choice is huge and there's plenty for the connoisseur to enthuse over.
But with neither of us drinking alcohol, it was bottles of sparkling water for two.
Shortly after we'd sat down, an array of breads arrived and we both chose the mini baguettes to nibble on. Then, an amuse bouche arrived -- a delicate little morsel of thinly sliced beetroot and goat's cheese.
And then came our chosen starters: pan-fried duck foie gras for Marian and croquettes of suckling pig for me.
The foie gras was served with pickled cherries and smoked almonds, rather than its more traditional presentation on a slice of toasted brioche.
The croquettes were two perfectly formed balls, about the size of ping-pong balls, fried to a golden crisp and enclosing finely chopped meat.
They were placed on a square made of thinly sliced pancetta with a red-pepper sauce and, alongside that, a small piece of foie gras.
Two excellent starters, which were followed after a while by our main courses. Marian had chosen turbot and I'd chosen the calf sweetbreads. The turbot came with heritage carrots and a truffle and citrus vinaigrette, while the sweetbreads came caramelised and accompanied by confit fennel and baby carrots.
Again, these were two very good dishes, skilfully prepared and very well flavoured, but not faultless. The 'heritage' carrots, three rounds of three differing colours, were undercooked and hard. They remained on the plate.
Often, after two courses, I find my appetite sated and I give desserts a miss, but in Patrick Guilbaud's the style is still to serve dainty quantities in the manner of nouvelle cuisine, so after our main courses we were more than hungry enough for dessert.
Marian decided on the poire William soufflé, which came with a pear sorbet. I chose the selection of sorbets. Before they came, a selection of petits fours arrived at the table, all of which were delicious.
I'm sorry I didn't get a photograph of Marian's dessert, the pear soufflé. It was magnificent, rising to nearly double the height of the ramekin it came in. And it was feather light.
Although I had intended to keep Marian company in not drinking alcohol, I thought I might enjoy a glass of dessert wine with my dessert, so I ordered a glass of Jurançon Clos Uroulat at €16. It paired nicely with my sorbets, which were subtle and delicately flavoured.
We decided to take a tea and an espresso outside in the smoking area, where we ended the night. I felt confident that my voucher for €300 would cover our meal, and it did. The bill came to €274. There didn't appear to be any system for arranging change, so the difference became the tip.
What struck me about this meal was that, on previous visits, I've always felt there was a huge gulf between the quality of the food in Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and the food elsewhere.
This time, I felt that the gulf has closed up.
We'd had an excellent meal, no doubt, but no better than many others that I've eaten in Dublin lately, for example Graham Neville's food in Residence. It's not that Guilbaud's standards have fallen, it's that everyone else's have risen.
And if I were to be picky, I'd add this. At these prices, you can't afford to have glitches in service.
On two occasions throughout the evening I had to ask repeatedly for more water. Bad enough in a cut-price bistro, but at this level unacceptable.
Despite these small gaps in service, I enjoyed our evening. The room is elegant, the food is excellent and a meal in RPG is still a gourmet treat.
It remains Ireland's only two-star Michelin restaurant.
Tel: 01 676 4192