Having secured a coveted booking, our food critic was charmed by Ballsbridge’s new Mae restaurant, a collaboration with The French Paradox
I have a love-hate relationship with online restaurant-booking systems. They can be handy, but too often I end up kicking the leg of the desk in frustration when a new hotspot announces that booking opens at precisely one minute and 12 seconds past the hour and, despite my best efforts, I never seem to win the sprint. This was the case for the opening of Gráinne O’Keefe’s new Mae restaurant in Ballsbridge. With a reminder set for 10 minutes before kick-off, and armed with a fortifying double espresso, I had my finger poised to book a table for two in its first week. The time came, and went, and... nothing. “What the hell...?” I thought, getting madder and madder. Then I changed the setting to three people, and, just like that, had a table for the following week.
There are only 16 covers until restrictions fully ease, but my booking wasn’t ideal as I was working and didn’t want to bring two guests. I consoled myself with the thought that, for some, booking a hot new restaurant is merely a sport to boast about to their Twitter ‘friends’, and with all the no-shows we hear about, I might still get the booking I wanted, and right on cue, on the morning of Mae’s second day, up popped that table for two!
There have been many cheffy collaborations throughout the pandemic, including the stunning teaming up of Ross Lewis and Mickael Viljanen, and the relaunch of Lewis’s iconic restaurant as Chapter One by Mickael Viljanen.
Tanya and Pierre Chapeau’s The French Paradox wine bar and shop has been on the go for almost 20 years. Last year, they handed over the wine business to sons Jacques and Patrick. The upstairs wine bar has been leased to the dynamo that is Gráinne O’Keefe, former head chef of Clanbrassil House, who has opened her Mae restaurant there, with The French Paradox supplying their directly imported wines.
Sommelier Julien Chaigneau had managed the wine bar for many years and still fulfils that role at Mae. Put them all together and what you get is an absolute delight, a chic and classy special space with a light, fresh feel, superb service from Chaigneau and team, and good food from O’Keefe.
O’Keefe has her eye on all the fine details that Mae — her grandmother, after whom the restuarant is named — would be proud of, from the embroidered napkins to the silver salver to the specially commissioned steak knives.
Dinner is €60, with wine pairings at €35/€50 per person, of which we didn’t avail, starting instead with crisp Wild Orchard lemonade (€5 each).
Bread and butter arrived, followed by an amuse selection, or ‘snacks’, as the hip crowd say (which doesn’t sound half as attractive as amuse, appetisers, canapés or even starters).
Anyway, O’Keefe advised us to kick off with a chunky chip-shaped brioche, deep-fried in duck fat, topped with piped chicken liver parfait, fig, shallot rings and micro leaves. This mouthful of heaven was followed by a mini pink pastry tartlet filled with beetroot, goat’s cheese and pickled walnut, and finally a crispy croquette ball of Basque ham and Gruyère.
Cais na Tire, the excellent farmhouse sheep’s cheese made in Terryglass, Co Tipperary, makes an appearance with agnolotti, a Piedmontese-style pasta, adding artichoke and leek to create a mouthwatering dish that leaves you wanting more…
It was meat or fish for the mains, so we had one of each. I’ve yet to be converted to cod, though it was a fine piece, and benefited greatly from the delicious black garlic, beurre blanc, and seaweed bestowed on it. A piece of rib-eye — with a sidekick of braised beef cheek, looking the biz topped with frilly-edged morel rings, diced celeriac, tarragon sauce — sadly proved heavy and chewy.
Apple tarte Tatin laced with Calvados would’ve pleased the spinster sisters for whom it was named, and we followed this with Young Buck cheese with pear chutney (€5 supplement).
With two bottles of mineral water (€5 each), and two glasses of Alsace Domaine Tour Blanche Riesling 2018 (€10 each), our bill with service came to €180.40.
Mae Restaurant, 53 Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. Tel: (01) 231-3903; maerestaurant.ie