I left you last week in Aungier Street, where I had been dining in the Whitefriar Grill. Directly across the road we looked at Brioche, which had an interesting look to it.
When we'd finished our meal, we wandered over to Brioche for coffee and a look at the menu.
It was a short menu of what was described as 'French tasting plates'. You could, if you like, think of dishes like these as tapas, except that they're French, not Spanish.
They're about the size of restaurant starters, and they're priced as though they were -- between €6 and €8.
As the days went by and the review night approached, we found that our first impressions had an effect on those who heard them. The result was that I needed to book a table for five.
Apart from Marian and myself, we were to be joined by chef Max Kenny and friends Paul and Elma Cusack.
I don't usually book, as I tend to review mid-week, but Brioche is small, seating at most 30, so with a table for five I thought a reservation would be wise. So I reserved for five in the name of Kenny.
Talk about coincidence -- we almost lost our reservation as there was another table for five booked in the name of Kenny, and Brioche thought reasonably enough that it was probably a double booking.
If you read my review of Terra Madre a few weeks ago, you'll know that I'm one of those diners who is happy enough to have few creature comforts while I dine as long as the food is good.
I should explain that Brioche was set up as a coffee bar serving salads and sandwiches at lunch-time. The evening menu of tasting plates is new, so the interior is still set up for quick snacks rather than long, lingering dinners.
I haven't tried the daytime fare, but chef Gavin McDonagh has an impressive CV, with L'Ecrivain and Patrick Guilbaud on it here in Ireland, and also a stint in France with Paul Bocuse -- chef royalty indeed. With a CV like that, you'd expect the food to be good.
The physical limitations of the inside space effectively dictates what dishes can go on the menu. The kitchen area is a tiny space behind the service counter and it's from here that the entire menu is prepared.
There are 10 tasting plates, plus one charcuterie plate for two and three side dishes on the menu. Since there were five of us, we did the logical thing and ordered all 10 dishes so that we'd all get a taste of all the dishes.
With that done we turned to the wine list, which is very short, listing just 10 wines. However, the list is being redesigned and we got an up-to-date list as well, although that too may have changed by the time you read this.
What struck me at once about this list was the prices. There were two wines listed at €15, which is a very reasonable mark-up. Most restaurants seem to think that wine lists should start at about €24.
On this list an Albarino by Raimat, an excellent white wine from Spain's Galicia region, was there at €24. Normally you'll find Albarinos on wine lists in the €30-€35 range. So we settled on that and had two bottles over the course of the meal.
Before I describe the food in detail, I just to want to say a word about service. We had a waiter called Shane Curley, and if all waiters were like him then restaurants would be better places.
No matter what question we asked about the menu, he knew the answer. He could describe the dishes perfectly and not once did we hear the dreaded phrase, 'I'll go and ask the chef.'
It was a joy to be served by someone who knew the menu intimately and was clearly proud of what he could bring to the table.
The cold dishes arrived first, followed by the hot dishes. So we started with the ham-hock terrine, which came with homemade piccalilli and Dalkey mustard, and the duck-liver paté, which came with a plum relish. Both were served with lightly toasted sour dough bread.
Two simple dishes, but well- executed and served with good bread.
Next came the salad Lyonnaise, leaves served with crispy bacon, a poached egg and croutons. What set it apart from the ordinary was the excellent French dressing on the leaves.
And then the hot dishes started to arrive -- the twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé, the Castletownbere mussels, the braised belly of pork, the daube of beef and the buckwheat crepe.
I enjoyed all of these dishes enormously except for the pork belly, which was a little glutinous for my palate, but my disappointment was balanced by the very delicious daube of beef.
Last, two fish dishes arrived: pan-fried sea bass, and perhaps the star dish of the night -- 'salmon with a twist'.
The sea bass was good, but the salmon dish was outstanding. The fish had been marinated, as for gravadlax, and then poached at a low temperature in a water bath until just the outside was cooked.
Then it was served with pickled cucumber, candied beetroot and horseradish creme fraiche. If you were to order just one dish off this menu, this is the one.
We finished up at an outside table for our teas and coffees, as it wasn't raining. Sitting here, the dessert menu tempted us, so we ordered three chocolate fondants and two chocolate bavarois -- both very good desserts, which brought our bill to €178.10.
There's a pleasing simplicity about Brioche. It's unpretentious, honest and the food is good.
Street, Dublin 2
Tel: 01-475 8536
On a budget
With the most expensive tasting plate costing €8, Brioche makes it easy for the budget diner. My choice for a one-course budget meal would be either the ‘salmon with a twist’ or the daube of beef, both excellent dishes.
On a blowout
Unless you were very hungry, you probably couldn’t manage three tasting plates. Two plus a dessert would be about right, so you’d be spending about €20 a head — as close to a blow-out as you can get.