Bistro One: 'I'd love to see a little more excitement on the menu'
Bistro One, 3 Brighton Road, Foxrock, Dublin 18. (01) 289-7711
We're on an expedition into deepest Foxrock - yes, intrepid I know - to visit a restaurant that has been going strong since 1992. Longevity on that scale is impressive in a fickle industry, and an indication that whatever Bistro One is doing, up the stairs in a modest space than spans a couple of shops in the village, it is making a decent fist of it.
Foxrock is one of Dublin's aspirational villages, and the only one in Ireland (reputedly) not to have a pub to call its own. To make up for that lack, it does have cafés and a wine bar and a couple of estate agents, as well as some good food shops, a petrol station and a post office.
We are eating on a Friday evening in high summer, enticed by Bistro One's social media boasting about freshly landed lobster. The place is full. It is unusual to find ourselves the youngest customers in any restaurant, but that's what my friend, Maeve, and I appear to be on this occasion; we feel positively girlish. Two of my aunts-in-law happen to be eating at the next table, and all around us, the talk is of cruises planned and hip replacements survived.
We are seated in the far section of the restaurant, which has little to recommend it by way of decorative interest. There's a window that's too high up to offer a view to the outside, a wood-clad wall, and not much else. The main room is the one to request if you want to be at the centre of the action. I've eaten here before a couple of times and my sense of Bistro One is that it is a restaurant that has always been serious about provenance, quality and seasonality, since long before local and seasonal became the menu cliché that it is today. Owner Mark Shannon even brings in olive oil from his own farm in Tuscany, and the menu discreetly name-checks some excellent Irish suppliers including Ronan Byrne, The Friendly Farmer, one of the best poultry producers in the country but whose birds I have only ever seen feature before on menus in the 'wesht'. Other producers listed include Wild Irish Game, Sally Barnes' Woodcock Smokery and Sheridan's cheesemongers.
Alas, there's no lobster on offer - the voracious locals have beaten us to it - but there is sweet and lovely Dalkey crab on toast, and Dublin Bay Prawn tempura with a vibrant yellow saffron aioli that is a compensation for the soggy and redundant batter. The prawns would have been better left alone.
A tranche of roast monkfish with wilted spinach, garlic butter and more of those gorgeous prawns is luxuriously good. It's not a complex dish, nor an innovative one, but it's probably one of the reasons that Bistro One is still going strong after 24 years. Similarly, a rib-eye steak from local butcher, John O'Reilly of Mount Merrion, is impeccably cooked medium-rare - flavoursome meat that hasn't been mucked about with. We're not as keen on the 'crispy onions', which are greasy, but a little baby heirloom tomato salad is summer lovely, and the chips are good. We finish with a blousey pavlova featuring lemon, pistachio and pomegranate, and a selection of Irish cheeses that includes Cooleeney, Durrus, Crozier Blue, and the new-to-me, 15 Fields raw milk cheddar-style cheese from Eamonn Lonergan of Knockanore, all served with biscuits that resemble retro-style cream crackers more than they do the house-made flax seed iterations that are everywhere these days.
Our bill, with a bottle of Bourgogne Blanc, Meursault (€39) comes to €161.70, including a 10pc service charge that's automatically added to the bill. Service is efficient but cool, and we have the sense that many of our fellow customers are regulars, who are being looked after with more warmth.
I'm in two minds about Bistro One. On the one hand, there is much to admire in the conscientious sourcing, which in itself feels modern. I like the short menu and the assured cooking. And I suppose that there is nothing wrong in continuing to do the same thing that you have always done, so long as you continue to do it well, which is the case here. I understand the need to look after your regular customers, and to retain the dishes that they like, but I'd love to see a little more excitement on the menu - even in just a dish or two - and for strangers to receive as warm a welcome as that afforded to old friends.
As we are leaving, we eavesdrop on a conversation in the main dining room. "Put your money in car parks and laundrettes," one chap is telling his friends, "and you won't go wrong."
So there you have it.
7/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The dinner menu is priced at €29 for three courses. It might feature mackerel with celeriac remoulade and capers, followed by plaice with broad beans, pak choi and prawn veloute, and vanilla panna cotta with raspberries to finish.
ON A BLOW OUT
Dalkey crab on toast, followed by fillet steak with crisp onions, with cheese to finish, with a bottle of Villa Antinori Chianti Classico would cost €180 for two including 10pc service.
THE HIGH POINT
Bistro One is somewhere that takes provenance seriously.
THE LOW POINT
Tables in the second room feel as if they are in Siberia.
Whispers from the gastronomicon
For readers old enough to remember the good old days of Town Bar & Grill, the news that Ronan Ryan (above) is getting back into the night-time restaurant business is reason enough to look forward to the autumn. Capo Dublin will open from Thursday to Saturday, in the premises occupied by Ryan’s daytime-only, healthy-eating Counter Culture on Mercer Street. I could tell you the identity of the chef, but I’d have to kill you — suffice to say, diners can expect a full-on Cal-Ital menu with big flavours and plenty of vino Italiano.