Tabletalk: Chez Max, 133 Lr Baggot St., D2 - maximum joy
Fed up with self-serving restaurateurs, and restaurants that turf you out the second you've finished, Lucinda O'Sullivan was delighted by the value and the ambience at chic Chez Max.
They are still at it! Those naughty restaurateurs, I mean. We have had years of being overcharged, nay, ripped off, for dollops of champ, bottled water, even bread, and they are now whingeing and bleating as they try to lure us in with 'recession' menus and prices they should have been charging in the first place. The worm has turned, and you would imagine the customer would be totally king. But no. So, what are they at, those self-serving restaurateurs? They are still at the 'sitting' business, which you may interpret as: "You can grace our table for two hours, empty your pockets of loads of dosh, and then get out." Pure greed. Will these guys ever learn?
A friend tried to book a table for 10 people, at 6pm, in two Dun Laoghaire restaurants recently. A bonus, one might think, in these times, but both restaurants wanted their tables back at 8pm sharp, and were prepared to forego the business.
This reminded me of another friend, very much the crusty, Victor Meldrew type, trying to book a table for 14 for a family occasion. The restaurateur, pen in mouth, pored over his book, hummed and hawed, and pronounced: "You can have a table at 8.15pm, but we need it back at 10.15pm."
Our crusty friend exploded: "It's not a dental appointment I'm booking; I was willing to spend over €1,000 in your restaurant, but you can stick your table."
That restaurateur is no longer in the business.
We are all looking for modestly priced restaurants and fair treatment nowadays, which brings me to the delightful Chez Max, a stereotypical French bistro, complete with a waiting staff and music from Central Casting. "I am French, of course!" How could I be so stupeeed as to ask?
They have been at Palace Street, beside Dublin Castle, D2, for the past few years, a venture that has been so successful that they have expanded and opened a second restaurant in a basement in Lower Baggot Street. The front room has some high tables and stools on which to perch, if your legs are long enough to show off; otherwise, grab a seat on the banquette -- nothing worse than looking like a button mushroom on a high stool.
Chez Max covers all angles. You can have pain au chocolat for breakfast, plat du jour at lunchtime, or antipasti platters pretty much all day. They also do Saturday brunch (€22.50), including a glass of champagne.
Starters (€5.90-€16.50) have all the French favourites -- escargots; foie gras, frogs' legs and lapin a la moutarde. Cassolette de noix de petoncles (€11.50) was a delicious gratin of queen scallops in a creamy sauce with crunchy slices of baguette. You now only see these sweet little queen scallops in France, which is rather a pity. Here, in our rich days, we only prized the big, fat king scallops, but, like everything else of late, big and flashy has become just plain overblown and vulgar!
Cuisses de grenouilles au beurre d'ail (€10.50) -- delicate frogs' legs in garlic butter served in a little pile with a nice salad -- were also delicious and succulent.
From an excellent selection of mains (€14.50-€24); boeuf bourguignon (€16.50) with new potatoes was a decent bowl of rich beef stew and heavenly on a cold wintry night. Perfectly cooked fillet de daurade -- sea bream -- (€21.50) had chunks of roasted fennel, cherry tomatoes and olives, which really pleased me. Irish chefs haven't got the hang of fennel, treating it as something exotic to be doled out in miserable shavings. Simple frites (€3.50), which I dunked in aioli, were bliss. Desserts are a sensible €5.50 and we shared a lovely creme brulee plus a mini cheese platter (€5.50), which offered a choice of two cheeses from a decent selection.
With a bottle of Cotes de Duras Quercy Domaine des Ganapes 2004 (€24.50) our bill, with optional service, was €109.
Chez Max,133 Lr Baggot St, D2. Tel: (01) 661-8899