Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at Brasserie Le Pont, Dublin 2
It amazes me how quickly things change. It seems like just the other day that we paid no attention at all to how much things cost.
We gave shopkeepers carte blanche to charge whatever they felt like, and restaurants were as guilty as other traders in agreeing to charge top whack for everything.
And did we care? Not one whit. Any price was fair enough.
Thankfully, that madness is no longer with us. It passed away with a rapidity that was in itself astonishing.
It has been replaced with a more rational mind set, one where bargains are sought, where we ask for discounts, and the phrase 'Is that your best price?' is increasingly used to secure a further drop.
These days, dinner in Ireland is not the expense it was. There can't be a restaurant left that doesn't have a set menu alongside its a la carte.
These set menus come with a variety of names, such as pre- theatre menu, early-bird menu, table d'hote menu or, simply, a set menu.
The price for dinner seems to have settled at €22 for two courses and €25 for three, or thereabouts. And when you do the maths, you can see what a bargain those figures represent.
Take the two-course meal at €22. Take off VAT at 23pc, then deduct for rates, rents, bank repayments, electricity, gas, heating, breakages, staff wages and council charges, and there's not much left to buy the raw food.
As for profit, that's simply not a possibility at these prices.
Not every restaurant is equal. Some offer bigger choices, some give better service, some offer greater levels of comfort and decor.
This week's restaurant, Brasserie Le Pont, has a very pretty dining room, a heated outdoor terrace for either taking the sun or having a smoke, plus there's plenty of space between the tables, giving you the privacy needed to talk a little treason, should you so wish.
The dining room is a large 'L' shape; the first part you come to is the bar area, which then leads, after a grand piano, to the dining areas.
This is in the basement of one of those grand Georgian houses -- you go down steps to it, but the rear is at ground level, letting in plenty of natural light.
I was taken there by Gerard Carthy, who had eaten there three times in the past month and was keen for me to enjoy it as much as he had.
We got the inevitable two menus, an early bird and an a la carte. I suggested that Gerard eat from the a la carte and I'd eat from the set menu, so we'd get a taste from both.
While we were looking at the menus, a waitress came around with a tray displaying the meats that were on offer -- 28-day dry- aged fillet and rib-eye, and a magret of duck.
The sight of a perfectly trimmed piece of duck was enough to persuade Gerard to choose it for his main course. I was almost tempted by the rib-eye, but stuck to my decision to eat from the set menu.
I spent a little while with the wine list. It's a decent list with fair prices and, unusually, a page of whites and a page of reds that change by the month.
But with both of us driving, it was down to glasses of wine rather than bottles.
Gerard ordered a French Sauvignon Blanc for his starter and then a Sangiovese from the Italian Marches for his main course.
After I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, I decided I needed one, too.
Roughly speaking, the a la carte menu has starters between €8.50 and €14.50, while mains run from €15.95 to €23.95, with only the steaks costing more.
The early bird was priced at €22.95 for two courses and €26 for three. So the order went scallops followed by duck for Gerard and an all-French meal for me -- onion soup to start and bouillabaisse to follow.
The starters arrived nicely presented. Gerard's scallops came on a slate accompanied by Clonakilty black pudding, artichoke puree and caramelised apple, while I got my soup served in a miniature tureen.
The scallops were perfectly cooked and, these days, the combination with black pudding is something of a classic. My soup was exactly as it should be: nicely caramelised onions mixed with a good beef stock and the croutons covered with melted Gruyere.
Well-made dishes, I thought -- certainly a good start to a meal.
The mains arrived and Gerard's duck looked good on the plate, the breast sliced and fanned. Then, after it arrived at the table, a little jug of jus came to finish it off.
Provencal purists might have taken issue with the bouillabaisse -- no scorpion fish, no rockfish, no conger, and not much taste of saffron from the potatoes or even a glimpse of yellow.
Still, what I got was a decent fish stew; some white fish, and both a mussel and a scallop to add a little interest.
The bouillabaisse was served, as it is traditionally, with a garlicky and very good aioli and crusty bread, which I used to eat the aioli.
We decided that we'd share a dessert and Gerard picked the lemon tart. I thought it was very well done; the lemon filling was a baked custard and the pastry was crisp and firm.
Alongside the pie was a scoop of strawberry ice cream. It was a brilliant carmine colour, but with a really delicious taste of strawberries complete with pips to get stuck between your teeth.
We left Brasserie Le Pont with a bill for €108.95, which I thought was fair, given the room and the excellent service.
Place, Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6694600
On a budget
The lunch set-menu is just €1 cheaper than the early bird, priced at €21.95 for two courses and €25 for three. If you eat from the lunchtime a la carte, you can find main courses for €14.95
On a blowout
Some of the a la carte main courses are well under €20, so to splash out you can either choose the aged fillet steak at €29.95, or turn to the wine list, where most of the wines are in the €30–€70 bracket.