The recession (can't we find some more palatable word for it, like the old folks use 'The Emergency' for what the rest of the world called 'World War Two'?) will be remembered, in gastronomic terms at least, for the rise-and-rise of bistro cuisine.
A bistro, sometimes spelled bistrot, is, in its original Parisian incarnation, a small restaurant serving moderately priced, simple meals in a modest setting. Other than that, the term is hard to define -- bistros are defined mostly by the foods they serve. Slow-cooked hearty foods such as braised meats are typical, as are simple dishes such as steak and chips. Bistro patrons do not necessarily expect professional service or printed menus. Décor tends to be basic and the atmosphere informal.
It seems that bistros most likely developed out of the basement kitchens of Parisian apartments in which tenants paid for room and board. Landlords found they could supplement their income by opening their kitchen to the paying public. The word bistro is thought to derive from the Russian 'bystro', which means 'quickly'.
According to urban legend, it entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Russian Cossacks, desiring prompt service, would shout "bistro!" This etymology is disputed by several French linguists who point out that the word cannot be traced back beyond the end of the 19th century. Another theory is that the word's origin lies in 'bistreau', originally a cowherd, later extended to mean 'a jolly fellow'. What a real bistro needs is a jovial host.
With these parameters in mind The Litry Chick and myself picked up a taxi at Montrose to journey to The Arch Bistro in Churchtown. Here, permit me a minor gripe: is there no such thing as 'the knowledge' any more, among the taxi-driving fraternity? We eventually arrived at our destination courtesy of a semi-functioning sat-nav coupled with some terse instructions from the passengers. I suspect that if our driver (Irish) had been left to his own devices we would still be on the M50 heading north.
Many of the bistro boxes got ticked early. The décor was pleasantly austere. The menu was a one pager. Glassware and crockery were simple and functional. Joviality was a given.
We were hungry and tucked into the hearty stuff right away. I nabbed the braised ham hock, puy lentils, crispy bacon and caramelised apple, and you can't get much heartier than that unless it was The Litry Chick's pan-seared scallops with a huge mound of potato and cod brandade.
My wild game pie main course was an utter delight, with the one caveat that I am getting a teeny bit brassed off with twee puff pastry toppings. Whatever happened to old-fashioned suet crust that soaks up the gravy a treat? Anyhow, a small price to pay, for the game was tender, flavoursome and the pie juices were thick and succulent. This was accompanied by the big brother of the brandade, a similarly shaped mound of mash on a separate dinner plate.
TLC's roasted pork belly, given the 12-hour treatment before getting stuffed with apricot and rosemary farce, served with choucroute, mustard mash and nicely crisp onion rings was a well-executed if rather unsightly (presented fat uppermost) example of this ubiquitous dish.
There's a respectable, short wine list. We settled on Gouguenheim Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina, classically robust enough not to lie down faced with the pork and game onslaught.
There's not much choice when it comes to desserts. The Litry Chick chose the lemon zabayon tart with honey mascarpone crème and was disappointed both with the ungenerous plover's egg-sized blob of mascarpone and the thin, reinforced concrete crust. I was happy with the cheeses, five or six in sound condition with a generous assortment of biscuits.
The Arch was full. With an early bird and a good-value Sunday lunch on offer I'd say the locals love having this as a replacement for the Thai franchise that formerly occupied the building. The evening ended as it began, buggered up by a taxi driver. This one failed to turn up. Still, the long walk home must have shed at least a quarter of the hearty bistro calories I'd consumed. As they say, always look on the bright side ...
Verdict: Warm welcome, reasonable prices, proper bistro fare. Presentation could do with tidying up.
The Arch Bistro (over the Glenside), Landscape Road, Churchtown, Dublin 14 Tel: 01 296 6340