Filled with beautiful decor, an evocative atmosphere, not to mention a tasty, Gallic-inspired menu, Le Cafe des Irlandais sets Lucinda O'Sullivan off on a trip down memory lane
Dubliners of all generations have always had a particular affection for Bewley's Oriental Cafes. I remember, as a child, being taken to the Grafton Street branch regularly, where they had amazing floor-standing hand-dryers, which were operated by a foot pedal. They would be acclaimed as artistic, retro wonders today.
My mother used to talk about Bewley's Jersey herd, and the taste of the rich, Jersey milk was always eagerly anticipated. No one thought of fat-free milk then.
It was Ernest Bewley who, in the late Twenties and early Thirties -- taking inspiration from the cafes of Paris and Vienna -- brought a bit of exotica to Dublin using influences from the Orient and Egypt. One of his great claims to fame were the wonderful Harry Clarke stained-glass windows, which he commissioned for the Grafton Street branch.
For the past five years, the former George's Street branch of Bewley's has been part of Jay Bourke and Eoin Foyle's Cafe Bar Deli group, but it has now morphed into Le Cafe des Irlandais.
It is a perfect venue for a Francais-Irlandais-style brasserie, with its evocative light-fittings, and bentwood coat-stands and chairs. I loved the fact, too, that it has kept up the arty atmosphere and theme by commissioning a quite glorious wallpaper. Filled with nostalgia, the wallpaper is embellished with people and places of fame and history in Irish life.
So, look up from your plate and study it -- from Lady Lavery on our old pound notes, to Michael Collins and WB Yeats, all enshrined in garlands of shamrocks.
Somewhat quirkily and humorously, too, the green-velvet, button-back banquettes have been upholstered incorporating Irish coins -- not a penny less, not a penny more.
Starters, from (€5.50-€11), include: foie gras with roast pears; salade Lyonnaise with bacon, croutons and a poached egg; moules mariniere; maquereau fume; gratinee Lyonnaise -- onion soup from Lyon; and cervelle de canut -- fresh goat's cheese salad with chives.
Monsieur B had a brace of rillettes de canard (€7.50), which came terrine style with cornichons and good brown bread. I opted for salade d'artichaut (€8.50), which was a big plate of nicely dressed frisee, tossed with cubes of ham, artichoke sections, flat-leaf parsley and croutons.
This would have made a nice, light lunch plate on its own, but, mindful of the fact there was more to come, I couldn't plough through it all.
The rotisserie section (€9.50-€15.50) included cuisse --leg, and filet -- breast, de poulet a l'oignon. All of the mains are served with potatoes and vegetables.
Cuisse de canard with cepes is duck leg with mushrooms, while the pork shank comes with a wholegrain mustard sauce. Salmon is served with sorrel cream, while le steak has a horseradish sauce.
Monsieur B had the filet de poulet, a tasty chicken breast -- it was what I would call real food, with the wing and skin intact -- on a puree of mashed potato with roast carrots and onion, tweaked with a sprig of thyme and gravy. Very nice.
I had gigot d'agneau de sept heures creme d'ail confit (€14.95), which was two tranches of roast lamb on a bed of mash, roast carrots, thyme and a garlic cream, topped with a half bulb of roasted garlic. However long the lamb was cooked for, it was delicious.
To follow, one could have tarte Tatin, chocolate cream with apple bites, cassis melba, creme brulee or chocolate cake with toffee mousse (€4.50-€8). A plate of Corleggy cheese was €8. We were hard aground, so we passed on puds.
Wines are available from €4.50 per glass, and by the bottle and litre at €20 and €22 respectively. We thoroughly enjoyed a half litre of Domaine Ste Marthe sauvignon/grenache blanc Vin de Pays d'Oc 2009 at €12, bringing our bill, with optional service, to €63.45.
Le Cafe des Irlandais,
12-13 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2.
Tel: (01) 677-1582