Paolo Tullio: The Power of One
Faultless food helps this Foxrock favourite reach its 18th birthday
Restaurants, you may have noticed, generally have a short life -- five to eight years is the average.
There are a few reasons for this: if the restaurant is successful, the owners may decide to move to bigger premises; fashions change and restaurateurs often respond by revamping everything and changing the name; sometimes leases come up for renewal and the rent becomes too much; sometimes they run out of energy, and sometimes they simply fail to make money and close.
There are very few restaurants that reach their 10th birthday and still fewer reach their 20th. But there are those that do and you have to ask yourself why this happens.
The most obvious answer is that the long-lived restaurants are doing something right -- or, more precisely, they're doing everything right.
I know from personal experience that keeping up the energy levels, the passion and the interest is not easy once you've hit the 10-year mark. Either you find a way to develop the restaurant to keep your interest alive, or the business withers.
There are two restaurants that I know of that are 18 this year -- Roly's in Ballsbridge, which I've reviewed fairly recently, and Bistro One in Foxrock, which I haven't reviewed for 12 years.
This is probably remiss of me, because on reading my last review I found I was pretty impressed with its offerings all those years ago.
In a way, it's surprising that there aren't more restaurants in Foxrock. It's an affluent suburb so you might expect more, just as you'd find in, say, Dalkey.
Bistro One is in Foxrock Village and you'll find it on the first floor above some shops. The décor is pleasing, the tables are fairly well spaced and the chairs are comfortable, so the first impressions are good. The dining room is quite big, but it circles around the stairwell in a U shape, so there are three almost separate dining areas, which gives a sense of privacy.
The dinner menu was an à la carte with seven starters and five main courses to choose from. The starters were all around €10 and the main courses ran from €19 to €28, which is the price of the dry-aged fillet steak.
I was dining with Marian Kenny and we got a table nestled into a corner. As I looked down the wine list, I noticed that there were quite a lot of Italian options.
Then I noticed something unusual: every one of the wines could be had either as a full bottle, a 50cl carafe or a 25cl carafe, and they were priced exactly in proportion to their size.
This system really gives the diner a choice: you could have a small carafe of a decent white with your starters, then a half carafe or a bottle of red with your main courses.
We didn't order any wine, but I was unable to resist a glass of the Manzanilla sherry, which was listed at €5, as I thought it would be a perfect pairing with my starter.
Marian had decided on the pea and leek risotto to start, while I'd been tempted by one of the day's specials, fresh crab on toast.
Marian had also picked the pan-fried plaice served with beurre blanc and I went again to the specials board for the lamb's liver.
Some excellent sourdough bread came to the table along with a small bottle of olive oil. This turned out to be exceptionally good -- fresh, spicy and with a hint of sharpness.
When I asked about it, I discovered that the olive oil was called San Gennaro and is made in Tuscany by Bistro One's owner, Mark Shannon, who has a small farm there.
This Italian connection is surely what accounts for the strong Italian feel to the wine list, as well as the Tuscan cured-meat platter on the starters and the buffalo mozzarella. I almost ruined my appetite with the combination of the sourdough bread and this exceptional olive oil.
Our starters arrived and they were well made and simply presented. The crab meat -- a mixture of white and brown -- was on toast, while Marian's risotto was served in a small white bowl. The risotto was cooked exactly à point, and my crab had been nicely flavoured. Two good starters.
Then the main courses came -- on Marian's plate a good-sized fillet of plaice that was cooked until firm, but no more. A well-made beurre blanc covered it and it was served on a bed of wilted spinach.
I've said it before, but if liver is overcooked it toughens to the point of inedibility. Thankfully this was not the case in Bistro One; it had been cooked on a very hot surface, so that the outside was well browned while the inside was moist and rare. If liver was always presented like this, it would have a lot of fans.
New potatoes from Wicklow accompanied our main courses -- nice to know that this restaurant uses local produce.
We decided on a dessert between us and chose the glorious classic of peach Melba, which looked and tasted good.
One thing has changed since my last visit. My only complaint previously was that espressos were unavailable. This time they were available, and not just available but also very good. It was served in a small glass, which let me see that it had a deep crema on top. It was made with a particularly good coffee, too. Another little Italian influence, I thought.
This was not a meal of haute cuisine, nor was it intending to be. It was a simple meal with no faults: nothing badly done; nothing over or under cooked. A meal with no faults is a rare thing, and it surely goes a long way to explain how Bistro One is still in business after 18 years.
Our bill, which included a complementary glass of wine that came with my main course of liver, came to €79.20.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
Bistro One, Foxrock Village, Dublin 18, Tel: 01-289 7711, www.bistro-one.ie