Nice cuisine on the Green, but the chips left me cold
la Mere Zou shows why the french have a reputation for great food
THE French have elevated dining to an art form, to the extent that the basement French restaurant serving bistro classics has become a cliche.
However, when a restaurant like this gets their cooking and atmosphere right, no other dining experience can match it.
Everything about La Mere Zou on St Stephen's Green is designed to make you believe you are no longer in Dublin, but in a back street of Paris or Lyon, so I felt it would be a perfect spot for three Francophiles.
Classically trained French waiters are much prized, but the downside of all their training was clearly demonstrated early in our meal. Every staff member who passed near our table (every 30 seconds or so) insisted on pouring wine in our glasses. The bottle was kept out of reach in a bucket of iced water and it took quite a struggle for us to be allowed keep the bottle on the table.
Never mind the fact that iced water is about 10 degrees colder than the correct temperature for serving white wines (although this mattered less with the light, crisp Janeil Cotes de Gascogne we were drinking), I found this distinctly irritating. I am sure the restaurant would claim that they were merely providing efficient service, but a cynic could suggest that the constant re-filling of our glasses was simply to encourage us to drink more.
However, let's get to the positives because this was an enjoyable meal.
Starters included straightforward but excellent mussels mariniere and an excellent sauteed squid with mango salsa, chilli mayonnaise and cucumber Vichyssoise.
The latter was a genuinely creative dish and the best of our starters -- the textured squid sweetened by the mango, enlivened by the mayonnaise and the palate refreshed by the chilled soup.
My salad of decent leaves was mixed through with spicy slices of juicy beef which appeared to have been marinated rather than cooked -- the strong pepper flavours dominated the dish but in a good way.
The French classical cooking tradition is responsible for all the best potato dishes, but La Mere Zou let themselves down on this front with frozen chips (confirmed by the waiter), mushy dauphinois and downright soggy duck-fat roast potatoes.
Potatoes aside, the three mains were very good -- perfectly cooked, well hung rib-eye steak and a stunning duck leg confit with a bitter orange jus and orange glazed endives that was both classical and innovative.
My barely cooked sea trout was served with a crisp apple and pungent fennel salad with a fennel aioli to add extra aniseed and, despite some disappointingly stodgy crab beignets, this was a successful dish.
Desserts were the final flourish and probably the highlight of the meal, so kudos to the pastry chef.
Rich and complex blackcurrant sorbet and subtle yet fruity pear ice cream matched each other well and were accompanied by two perfect warm madeleines, as good as anything Marcel Proust ever tasted.
Vanilla cheesecake was packed with flavour on a crumbly biscuit base and was tasty enough for me to forgive the bullet-textured roasted peaches on the side.
Cafe gourmand cost an extra €2.50 for an espresso served with a selection of mini-desserts, including a crumbly strawberry tart, a creme caramel and a delicious dark chocolate truffle.
Sometimes things are called a classic for a reason.