L'ECRIVAIN has offered high-end French food for 22 years . . . but never at such great value.
We humans are a social lot. The sharing of food and stories around the campfire ultimately led to our civilisation. So it makes perfect sense that at times of celebration we revert to this basic concept. Our creativity in taking meat, fish and vegetables and perfecting their preparation to maximise the pleasure to be had in eating them is also very human.
Fine-dining restaurants are a pinnacle of our civilisation and the best place to celebrate a human event such as the meeting of two people.
I met the Engineer 20 years ago this month and the first decent restaurant I ever treated her to was a surprise meal in l'Ecrivain. I still remember parts of that meal - the saffron sauce on the fish for example - and I remember Derry Clarke lingering near the door to enquire if we had enjoyed our meal. We have returned many times since.
L'Ecrivain's lunch menu is €25 for three courses (the restaurant is open for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays) but this becomes five when you include the amuse bouche and the petit-fours, so that's just a fiver a course.
A kir royale and a glass of Schlumberger Pinot Blanc was our starting point and with a little help from sommelier Martina Delaney, I chose a 2006 Morey-Saint-Denis from Lombeline - fragrant and delicate, but a match for our broad mix of courses.
Our 'amuse' was a white onion veloute - velvety as the name suggests, and a fine promise of the quality that was to come.
The Engineer's scallops were caramelised without, just-cooked within, and came with carrots: baby ones, confit and purée - all designed to draw even more sweetness from the shellfish. My quail was boned and rolled and served with meaty mushrooms and a date purée to add a hint of sweetness. The best bit was the perfectly fried quail's egg -- the white just firmed and the yolk set but yielding on the tongue.
The Engineer's suckling pig came as tenderloin, belly pork with a toffee-sweet skin and a deep fried rillette. The meat was balanced with swede, purple potato and apple and almond sauces.
My skate was moist and perfectly cooked, but perhaps a tiny bit bland despite the elegant orange and raisin butter sauce with plump raisins and smears of chervil purée to add a musky counterbalance. A breaded, fried frog's leg added a welcome crispy, fleshy note.
The skate was cooked sous-vide - a kind of low temperature boil-in-the-bag that ensures maximum retention of moisture and flavour - perfect for rich meats but I am not convinced it works as well for white fish.
A yoghurt pannacotta arrived wobbling and creamy alongside a rhubarb sorbet and doughnut. Peanut parfait, crumbly Bourbon biscuit and banoffee ice-cream offered an overload of peanut intensity that would have cured even Elvis of his addiction to peanut-butter-fried sandwiches.
Coffee came with a selection of further treats -he highlights being a rose-petal macaroon and a raspberry marshmallow.
I didn't think I could be surprised by l'Ecrivain after 20 years, but this was very close to a perfect meal with a mix of retro and adventurous flavours and some moments of pure bliss. Don't wait for a celebration, just go.