None of us wants to return to the bad old days of a decade ago, when the main topic of conversation at dinner parties up and down the land - but particularly in Dublin - was property prices. Perish the thought. But it would be remiss not to remark upon how anyone who picked up a bargain in Dublin 8, particularly in the less immediately photogenic area around Leonard's Corner, the intersection of Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road, is sitting pretty.
I've written before about how high rents and key money in the city centre are contributing to a restaurant culture that favours chains and restaurant groups with deep-pocketed backers over individual owner-operators. The inevitable consequence of this is a growing homogeneity to the restaurant offering around Grafton Street, with first-timers and independents pushed out to areas that are still on the cusp. Depending on your viewpoint, you can call Leonard's Corner either edgy or grotty, but there's no doubt that this is a part of town that's on the up.
One of the hottest restaurants in Dublin is Bastible, which opened almost diagonally across from Gaillot et Grey at the end of last summer. Just along from Bastible, on the other side of the road, is the Little Bird Cafe and Yoga Studios. A few hundred metres down Clanbrassil Street, and on the same side of the road is The Fumbally, a D8 pioneer that goes from strength to strength in terms of the ambition of its food. It has expanded beyond its original daytime offering and now serves dinner on Wednesday evenings. On the other side of the street is Pupp, where lucky pooches get to hang out and drink dog beer under the tables, while their humans catch up over brunch.
The latest arrival on Clanbrassil Street is Gaillot et Gray, a pizza joint that serves - as you might deduce from the name - pizzas in the French style: that is, made with Emmental rather than mozzarella cheese. Gaillot et Gray started out as a food truck in Greystones, and it is still to be found in the old Watson and Johnson car park on the Mill Road each evening from Wednesday to Sunday, from 5pm onwards, although it is for sale as a going concern. Most of its customers are locals who order ahead and collect. The couple behind the business - Frenchman Giles Gaillot and Irishwoman Emma Gray - were inspired to go into the food business by the pizza trucks that pulled into Giles' small village in France, and their efforts to replicate a similar operation have been a success, hence their expansion to Dublin 8.
What used to be a betting shop has had a smart grey paint job - with lovely hand-painted signage by signpainter Vanessa Power - and inside it's bright and airy with simple wooden tables and chairs that look as if they have come out of a school room or church hall. The lighting is - of course - filament lightbulbs with the wiring chased across the ceilings in steel pipes. There's one large communal table plus a handful of smaller ones, and there are bottles of chilli-infused Broighter Gold rapeseed oil on the tables to give the pizzas a touch of extra ooomph, if needed. We all think that it would be a great place to have a birthday dinner.
Pizza is served from 4pm onwards - earlier in the day there are coffee and pastries - and when we arrive the only member of staff is an affable Frenchman in a natty cap, who we take to be Monsieur Gaillot himself. A young man arrives on his bicycle to help at around 5pm. There's only one customer when we arrive, but it's filling up by the time that we leave - it already seems to be an on-the-way-home-from-school-or-work-when-we-don't-feel-like-cooking spot for locals, and take-out is available. A happy baby is perched in his highchair tucking into a slice with gusto. The wood-burning oven is reassuringly huge, and there's a huge pile of wood outside in the yard, which I'm hoping will morph into a terrace for eating outdoors when the weather warms up.
The menu is short - pizzas only, with eight choices available. There are no wacky combinations, everything is traditional but French. The five that we tried were all terrific, the bases super-thin, blackened in places with that delicious char that you only get from a proper wood-fired oven. Chorizo and chilli had a decent kick to it and plenty of smoked paprika, while the four cheeses was generous in terms of the amount of topping. Mergues - spiced North African sausage - came with mushroom and caramelised onion, and the Bayonne ham and rocket was another hit. One small quibble was that we thought that the roast peppers on the peppers, garlic and basil version could have cooked longer and slower, to bring out their sweetness, but that's nit-picking.
By the time that you read this, Gaillot et Gray should have its wine licence, but in case it is not yet in place, I can recommend the BYO San Valentin Garnacha 2014 from Torres, which is sold at the Mace on Clanbrassil Street for €14.99. The first two convenience stores that I went in to in search of wine were Halal, so I didn't have any luck in either.
Pizza for five of us - yes, we each ate a whole one - came to €71. I see now that we were not charged for three soft drinks, which would have brought the bill to €80 before service. A loaf of the house-baked bread from the wood-burning oven cost us another €4.50 - it's dense, flavoursome and very good. We'll definitely be back.
ON A BUDGET
The cheapest pizza is the cheese and tomato at €10; you could always share one — but that would be a pity.
During the day there are pastries for €1.50, and café au lait or noir starts at €2.50 for a short one.
ON A BLOW OUT
Other than eating more than one pizza, it would be impossible to spend more than €15 per head plus drinks.
The wine list was not available at the time of writing.
THE HIGH POINT
More good news for residents of Dublin 8, as another great place to eat opens its doors.
THE LOW POINT
There are no desserts on offer.
8/10 value for money
Of all the economic indicators that can be parsed over, one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention is the long lunch on a Friday. It’s good to see, therefore, that some of the puritanical practices that evolved during the recession are starting to relax a little and that Luna, the current canteen of choice for Dublin, is leading the way in reviving a very civilised institution. Luna, which otherwise only opens at night, now serves lunch from 2pm onwards on Friday. Don’t plan on going back to the office afterwards.