Turning water into wine: Le Bon Crubeen
Is it age? Is it a creeping cynicism? Why do I feel guilty when I tell you I'm glad the hype of the festive season is over? Maybe my formative years of watching Ebenezer Scrooge's conversion from grouch to a man bouncing with bonhomie, Christmas cheer and goodwill to his fellow man have left me uncomfortable with confessing to an occasional 'bah humbug'! Even though this year it all seemed more muted than in others,
I'm happy to be back into a normal routine, with less carousing and partying. Another week of sleigh bells, ho-ho-hos, red-nosed reindeers, jolly Santas and Muzak carols, and I'd have gone mad.
So, the New Year is with us, the days are lengthening and there are green shoots to be seen, both herbal and economic. Ireland Inc. broke briefly into profit in the last quarter of 2009, so maybe the worst is over. Certainly the crowds on the Christmas spending spree made me think that, if nothing else, we haven't lost our sense of optimism. For a few weeks over the festivities the doom and gloom merchants were silent and all we had to deal with in the news was the continuing saga of bishops in the dock.
I don't suppose I'm different from anyone else in that when it comes to Christmas shopping, I get into a panic. If it were possible to do all my shopping in Annamoe I would, but there are some people whose presents can only come from the city centre. I'm not good with crowds at the best of times, but the Christmas crowds can leave me feeling positively overwhelmed.
Despite this, in the spirit of altruism coupled with the desire for a bargain, I found myself in Dublin's centre before Christmas on my last day of panic purchasing. I'd arranged a late lunch with Bairbre Power, who suggested we could try Le Bon Crubeen in Talbot Street, not far from the Indo's head office.
Even though lunchtime proper was well over, the place was still packed with shoppers taking a breather and eating. We found a table in the annexe to the main dining room and settled into the menus.
The first thing that strikes you on the menu is the price of the main courses -- they're all between €10 and €12.50, which isn't a lot. Starters are priced more in line with the norm -- apart from the soups they're all €7.50. There's a fair spread of choices as well: the starters include fish cakes, goose rillettes, a mushroom and bread pudding, fried Brie, a selection of dips and breads, and, lastly, steamed mussels, which are available as a starter portion or as a main course at €12.50.
The main courses don't stint on ingredients, even though they're priced low. There are 10 to choose from, including a goats' cheese tart, battered whiting and chips, baked salmon, sea bass, bangers and mash, a confit duck leg, braised lamb shank and an 8oz sirloin steak, which is great value for €12.50.
The wine list is short -- less than two-dozen wines are listed -- but they are priced to sell. Nearly all of the wines on the list are priced at less than €30, with just the Champagnes and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc breaking that barrier. A Prosecco is yours for €23. It may be a short list, but there are some decent wines on it, including the Collavini Pinot Grigio, the Mudhouse Sauvignon Blanc and the Baron de Ley Rioja.
Neither of us were drinking, so we ordered sparkling water, but it was available only in quarter bottles. I drank three and they were charged at €8.40, or €2.80 each. That means a litre of water would cost you €11.20, which is almost as much as some of the main courses. Frankly, that's insane. How can a litre of water cost almost as much as a meal? There's no reason why a restaurant can't put a litre of water on the table for €4 or less.
We ordered a soup for Bairbre and the goose rillettes for me as our starters, then the confit duck for Bairbre and the fish and chips for me.
The starters arrived and they were very well presented: good crockery and the contents carefully laid out. It was a much better presentation than I was expecting. Bairbre's soup was a winter vegetable, so it was hearty, wholesome and warming, rather than subtle and delicate. My goose rillettes (a kind of smooth goose pâté) was very good and came with Melba toast and a celeriac rémoulade. I thought that it was well above average in execution and was well thought out as a dish.
The same high standard continued with our main courses. Bairbre really liked her duck confit and I could see why: it was cooked perfectly, the flesh coming easily off the bone, the outside skin crispy and brown, the meat pink and tender.
My fish and chips was pretty good as well, although the beer batter had gone a bit flat and had absorbed quite a lot of oil. Still, it was a good piece of fish, the chips were good and the tartare sauce that came with it made a great dip for the chips. And just like our starters, these two dishes looked good on the plate, which at these prices is something of an added bonus.
We had both eaten well, but in the spirit of investigation we felt we needed a dessert to truly assess lunch properly. We decided to share a Bailey's bread and butter pudding, which tasted a lot better than you'd imagine.
After this I ordered an espresso and, as usual, I waited for a small cup of black coffee with no crema. I didn't get that; I got a proper espresso with a light brown crema on top and a rich, full flavour in the cup. One of the best I've had in a long time.
Despite the fact that the restaurant was very busy, we got swift and pleasant service, we'd eaten well and I got a bill for just €53.45 without service charge.
The north city-centre isn't awash with restaurants, so Le Bon Crubeen is a very welcome addition. Long may it prosper.
Value for money 8/10
25-30 = Excellent
20-25 = Good
15-20 = Fair
0-15 = Poor
Le Bon Crubeen,
Talbot Street, Dublin 1. Tel: 01-704 0126
Read Paolo at www.tasteofireland.ie