Eating Out: Le Petit Cochon - A happy little pig
It was my mother who got me started on a lifelong interest in food. When I was a small boy we lived in Salisbury in southern England, where my parents owned and operated three restaurants. That meant late nights for them, which didn't make getting up easy on school mornings.
So my mother taught me how to make my own breakfast, which I did, before taking myself off to St Osmond's Primary School. That left my parents free to stay in bed, while I practised making scrambled eggs, omelettes and boiled eggs. Soon after that I was helping with lunch and dinner, and learning how to cook pasta with a variety of sauces.
When I left home at the age of 19 to live in a city centre flat, my mother's parting gift to me was Pomiane's 'Cooking in Ten Minutes', a wonderful book by a great chef that formed the basis of much of my culinary skill, or rather those bits that I hadn't already learned from my mother's wide and varied repertoire.
My mother retains to this day a love of good food, although these days she doesn't cook any more. Now her principal pleasure is eating in restaurants, and for the past few years her favourite restaurant has been Tribes in Glasthule. So when her birthday came around again this week, I promised her a meal in Tribes.
What I didn't know then was that Tribes has completely re-invented itself and has just re-opened as Le Petit Cochon, or The Little Pig. This isn't so strange when you know that François Jacusse, the chef and co-owner of Tribes for the past eight years, has decided to revert to his French roots and recreate some of grandmother's dishes. Cuisine grandmère has a noble pedigree in France, where tradition in the kitchen is venerated almost as much as invention.
We went as a foursome, Marian and Max Kenny, my mother and me. The new interior décor is very smart, all pastel-painted wood with a paint effect on the floorboards. The same staff as ever made a big fuss of my mother, which she pretends not to enjoy, and we were made comfortable at the table where she normally sits.
We did notice one effect of the new décor – all those hard surfaces contribute to quite a loud background noise. For the techies among you, I used my decibel meter app and discovered that the sound level rarely dropped below 110 decibels. To put it another way, be prepared to shout to the people across the table from you if it's busy.
The new menu is very French, it's the sort of menu I used to discover when driving across France. It was my habit for years to stop in roadside restaurants that were part of Les Routiers – easily spotted by the large number of trucks parked outside. The menus tended to be fixed price and full of the earthy, wholesome dishes of provincial France. If that rings any bells of recognition with you, you'll know what to expect from Le Petit Cochon's menu.
We started with two salad Lyonnaise, a real French classic which, whatever else it may contain, will always have a poached egg and smoked bacon as part of its makeup. The salads were presented on a wide, white plate which made for an elegant presentation. Our maître d' remembered that my mother always started with the duck liver paté, and although it was no longer on the menu, the kitchen found a portion for her. I must say I've always liked their paté; it's a smooth one and is served with crispy sourdough bread. I felt that I should order the trio of pork, given the restaurant's new name. It came as a square of belly, a slice of rillette and a piece of confit cheek. Of the three pieces of pork, I particularly liked the rillette, a kind of rough terrine made from shredded pork.
For our main courses we'd all ordered something different. Marian had ordered the sirloin steak, which could so easily have been described on the menu as 'biftek avec frites', which is exactly what it was, complete with the addition of a small green salad on the side of the plate. My mother had decided she wanted fish, so she ordered the sea bass, which came with roasted vegetables, cherry tomatoes and a very smooth potato purée.
Max, meanwhile, had another classic, the boeuf bourgignon, which was exactly as you would get it in France served in a deep bowl, with a mix of vegetables, the slow-cooked beef cubes and a potato purée.
I'd chosen yet another classic for my main course, the duck confit. It came served in a small enamelled pot, with the confit leg topping the rest. It turned out to be far more than I could eat, which mirrored Marian and her steak, but both my mother and Max had no trouble clearing their plates.
We were wondering if we could manage a dessert, when our maître arrived at the table with a French apple pie, in the centre of which a candle blazed. He put it down in front of my mother and she got a full-lung rendition of 'happy birthday' in which much of the restaurant joined. The plate even had the words 'happy birthday' piped in chocolate around the outside.
Tribes was always a good value restaurant and its new incarnation is no different. The bill for the four of us was €125.50. What is different is the new menu, where you can find many classic dishes of the French repertoire.
On a Budget
Escargots are the most expensive starter at €8.95. The other starters are priced between that and €5.95. The most expensive main course is the steak and frites, a 10oz sirloin with frites and a salad priced at €23.95, certainly one of the lowest prices I’ve seen for sirloin.
On a Blowout
There’s an early bird menu that runs all night, Sunday to Thursday, and from 5.30pm to 7pm on Fridays and Saturdays . Two courses cost €21.95 and three courses cost €25.95.
I really liked the new menu with its emphasis on ‘cuisine grandmère’.
There were times when the sound levels verged on the deafening.
9/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
One of my favourite restaurants is Chapter One, the Michelin starred restaurant on Parnell Square, Dublin. Gill & Macmillan has just published 'Chapter One: An Irish Food Story', which tells the story of the restaurant's rise and rise. Certainly a good Christmas prezzie for a foodie.
Another beautiful book called 'The Irish Beef Book' has also just been published by Gill & Macmillan. It's a collaboration between my old friend Katy McGuinness, the food writer and Pat Whelan, a master butcher that I follow on Twitter. Anything you need to know about beef is between these covers.