Review - Bresson: Classic-with-a-twist old school French food, impeccably executed
Bresson, 4 Monkstown Crescent, Monkstown, Co, Dublin. (01) 284-4286
If you've ever driven through Monkstown, which lies between Blackrock and Dun Laoghaire on the Gold Coast of South County Dublin, you'll know that one thing that it is not short of is places to eat. But for many years it has lacked what I'd call a proper, grown-up restaurant (the last one was Alexis Fitzgerald's Abbott of Monkstown, where I was brought to celebrate my Leaving Cert results - with trout almondine and muscadet, I recall - and which closed several decades ago). While many locals may be happy to eat on the crescent when they are out with their families for a casual brunch or supper, they prefer to head into town when they are in the mood for something a little different.
With the arrival of Bresson, named after the acclaimed photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, in what was formerly Seapoint, the village has now acquired what it was lacking.
From memory, the layout is unchanged, but the interior has had a smart makeover. In the low evening light, the bottles behind the long bar to the front twinkle in an alluring fashion. Gone is the casual, vaguely seaside décor; in its place brasserie-style dark brown panelling and French prints. There are attractive floor tiles and some nice parquet, a tobacco leather banquette down one wall in the rear section by the open kitchen, and stylish brushed dark metal chairs with leather seats. There are white linen tablecloths, almost a novelty these days. In the summer months, the tables in the little courtyard to the side will be in high demand, and there are plans to re-vamp the private dining room upstairs, but for now it's all about hunkering down and staying cosy.
A couple of cocktails to start - a classic Grey Goose Martini, and a French 75 (bas-Armagnac, Brimoncourt Regence Brut Champagne, lemon juice and simple syrup, with a delicate filament of lemon peel) that is so good that if it wasn't such a potentially dangerous idea, I'd be tempted to learn how to make them myself.
Bresson's chef is Temple Garner - the restaurant is a joint venture with his old friend, Conor Kavanagh, a familiar face from The Old Spot - and he tells me later that many of the dishes are inspired by menus from Sean Kinsella's Mirabeau, that Sandycove temple of gastronomy that by all accounts shone out like a beacon in a sea of dross during the '70s and '80s. (Sadly, I never ate there.)
Academic Máirtín Mac Con Iomaire of DIT has an archive of menus from Irish restaurants over the years and has shared some of these with Garner, who says that the Mirabeau's menus were modern in the way that they listed ingredients - 'fillet steak, black truffle' for instance - without describing the method of preparation. So Garner was inspired rather than instructed, free to interpret the dishes as he wished.
At Town Bar & Grill, Dublin's Noughties' commissary (co-owned by Garner and his partner Ronan Ryan, and where I'll admit to having spent far more time and money than was prudent), the food influence was Italian. Garner subsequently went on to open San Lorenzo, where I have not eaten since a disappointing brunch experience some years ago (yes, I do bear food grudges) but is always full when I walk past at the weekend, so clearly I know nothing.
We start with rabbit fricassee - a genteel portion of sage and butternut squash gnocchi in a rich, mop-able sauce with Ventreche ham, carrots, white wine, wholegrain mustard and tarragon, that is full of flavour and depth. The only dud note food-wise is a crab crème brûlée that is too deep, solid and egg-y and not crab-y enough for our taste. The cucumber and dill pickle on the side is good though, as is the retro melba toast .
Coquilles-St Jacques is a gorgeous affair - three large Kilkeel scallops served on the half shell, gratin-style, surrounded by 'chaudree' of brown shrimp and smoked haddock, with a creamy sauce of white wine and leeks, pomme purée, Gruyere cheese and parsley. It's a luscious dish, and clearly not one aimed at the low-carb, low-fat brigade. At €23, it's the cheapest main course on the à la carte. A side of Savoy cabbage, in a mustardy sauce, is equally unctuous.
At TB&G, my favourite dish was the veal chop. At Bresson, Garner offers a new version that I reckon he will never be allowed to take off the menu - Limousine [sic] bone-in striploin flavoured with white pepper and fennel seeds, and served with glazed Jerusalem artichokes, chanterelles, jus and sauce verte - an impeccably balanced, hand-chopped salsa verde. It is epically good, the meat pink and juicy, as indeed it needs to be to justify the €42 price tag. Perfect Dauphinoise potatoes are served in one of those dinky little copper pans.
We finish with a perfect little tarte tatin (as recommended by our waiter), and a prune and Armagnac trifle that's not as interesting as it sounds (too much cream).
When he comes over to say 'Hello' at the end of our meal, Garner tells us that he wanted to do something different to the pickled and fermented modern Irish cuisine that's so prevalent now, and he has certainly achieved that at Bresson. Our bill for two, with a bottle of light Marzemino, and fizzy water came to €187 before service.
8/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The €29/€35 two/three-course set menu for lunch and early bird includes sardines Provençal, Coquilles-St Jacques and dark chocolate tart.
ON A BLOW OUT
Crab crème brûlée, côte de veau, and a couple of sides, followed by sticky toffee pudding and cheese to share will come to €147 for two before drinks.
THE HIGH POINT
Bresson sees the return to Dublin's restaurant offering of classic-with-a-twist old school French food, impeccably executed.
THE LOW POINT
The crab crème brûlée isn't as good as Paul Flynn's at The Tannery.