Restaurant review: 'Nick Munier's latest venture after some career ups and downs offers tasty and modern French cuisine'
Le Perroquet, 133 Upper Leeson Street, Dublin 4. www.leperroquet.ie
My French friend Katia is already seated when I arrive at Le Perroquet, and if I'm not mistaken there's a tear in her eye. "The music," she says, "is making me very happy and nostalgic."
The singer is France Gall, who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965 at the age of 17 and was a big star into the 1990s. A law introduced in France in 1994 required that 40pc of songs played on French radio stations had to be in French, the quota introduced to combat "the Anglo-Saxon cultural invasion". France Gall and her ilk were the soundtrack to Katia's teenage years in Paris.
Katia is my expert on French food, and Le Perroquet's schtick is nothing if not French. There is a French movie playing on a screen at the far end of the room (the gentle Monsieur Hulot's Holiday, starring Jacques Tati) and the interior is propped with rows of Ricard jugs and chirpy parrots. Katia is touched by a vintage Pierrot Gourmand lollipop stand; she remembers her granny "being too soft with me and buying me all the treats after school".
Le Perroquet is latest venture from Nick Munier, who has been through some career ups and downs (show me a person in the restaurant business who hasn't). He's a familiar face from his television appearances on shows such as Hell's Kitchen (he was Marco Pierre White's maître d') and on MasterChef Ireland, which he co-presented with Dylan McGrath.
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At Le Perroquet he is in business with Frank Gleeson, who was also involved in Pichet, which Munier co-founded, and Chris Fullam, the young chef who first came to my attention when he was in the kitchen at Old Street in Malahide. (There are only ever six degrees of separation in the world of Irish restaurants.)
The menu boasts an illustration of a young bellboy (representing Munier) carrying his belongings and a parrot on a swing, picking himself up and starting out all over again, the parrot his trusty sidekick.
The menu offers small plates designed to be shared. Despite the way that some of these are named, these are not classic French dishes. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the authenticity police might disagree.
Beef tartare, for instance, comprises little quenelles of tender Dexter beef buried under blobs of sour cream, sheep's cheese and a flurry of grated cured egg yolk, with shards of crisp sourdough for texture. (It's hard to figure out exactly what's what because the lighting is so low.) The flavours work well and the dish is properly tasty.
Roast leg of lamb with seaweed potatoes and pickled pear comes with a deliciously sticky concentrated jus; scallops with cauliflower and pancetta are full of flavour.
So far, Katia and I are in agreement, but we are divided on the 'cassoulet', featuring white sweetcorn and Parmesan but no sausage or duck. Katia's a fan - rightly pointing out that French restaurants often fall short in terms of vegetarian options - but I can't get over the lack of meat. Parmesan Aligot, meanwhile, is an excellent cheesy mashed potato, but lacks the essential stringy pull of the classic dish made with tome fraîche.
We finish with the Cinema dessert - popcorn, caramel, ice-cream and other sweet bits and pieces - that is something of a Fullam signature, although it looks less refined than when I had it at Old Street. The cola jellies are unwelcome. Cheeses - a mixture of French and Irish - are in good condition.
With a bottle of Château Gaillard Fleurie 2017 (€50) and sparkling water, our bill comes to €126.50 before service. I'd like to see more provenance information on the menu, but I enjoyed Le Perroquet and its unpretentious ways.
I'll leave the last word to Katia, though: "If I miss my mam, I'll still pick Chez Max but if I want good modern French food, I'll go back to Le Perroquet but I'll be likely to point at the dishes rather than say the names!"
ON A BUDGET
Eating solo, you could have a couple of small plates and a glass of wine for €21 before service.
ON A BLOWOUT
Go for six small plates between two, with sides, followed by cheese and dessert, and you could spend €100 before wine and service.
THE HIGH POINT
Great ambience, with comfy counter seats ideal for solo diners.
THE LOW POINT
Purists may quibble about authenticity.