Since 2006 chef-patron Oliver Dunne has been presiding over this four-storey Georgian building in a seaside terrace in the charming town of Malahide.This talented young chef trained in a number of London’s top restaurants before returning to Ireland and - having made his name here at the former fine dining destination Mint, in Ranelagh - he brought an impressive range of experience to this challenging venture.
The building is large, but every part of it is put to good use and it now offers a complementary range of dining experiences for different occasions and budgets.
The entrance level now offers 'Le Bon Vin,' a smart wine and 'taster plates' bar; the lower ground floor is an informal restaurant 'La Brasserie' (see below); and, upstairs, fine dining is offered in 'Le Restaurant'.
The introduction of Le Bon Vin displaced the former reception bar, which can be disconcerting on busy nights as diners arriving to eat in Le Restaurant (or even La Brasserie) tend to be squeezed into the bar between guests enjoying cocktails and tapas-style small plates such as Toulouse sausage; calamari; steak brochette; and cheese and meat platters - all just €2.95, or 2 plates and a glass of wine for €19.95.
But everybody seems to manage with good humour and, once upstairs in Le Restaurant, expectations rise as the sensual palette of muted metallics and moody neutrals creates a real sense of luxury in two classically proportioned adjoining rooms. Silk lined walls, contemporary chandeliers, cream carver chairs, huge mirrors, fresh flowers and generous linen-draped tables all add to the sense of anticipation.
The impressive range of menus offered at Le Restaurant includes a set Dinner Menu with six choices on each course (3 courses, €59.95), a Tasting Menu (7 courses, €69.95), a Menu Prestige (9 courses, €80), an A La Carte and also an early bird menu, which is available every night (3 Courses, €29).
Luxury ingredients like foie gras and, perhaps, Dublin Bay prawns and game such as pheasant or venison in season, feature. But, surprisingly, there is no mention of provenance – not even a ‘Howth lobster’ or a ‘Wicklow lamb’, nor the names of any artisan suppliers - which gives menus a slightly impersonal feel.
The cooking, however, is highly sophisticated, with each plate served as a work of art – every dish is paired with thoughtfully considered accompaniments which enhance the dining experience.
There is some value to be found on the lengthy wine list and, although most menus at Le Restaurant are undeniably expensive, the cooking lives up to its promise and the overall experience of an evening in one of the most exciting County Dublin restaurants is something that would not until recently have been expected outside the city centre. Also, as with all top restaurants, the lunch and early dinner menus offer great value.
After dinner, when it should be quieter, diners may repair downstairs to the chic bar, Le Bon Vin, for digestifs.
In the lower ground floor, La Brasserie is an informal but equally stylish (if noisy) operation, with longer opening hours and an interesting range of menus.
Here head chef Aaron Carroll turns out smart modern dishes, with a stated emphasis on comfort food - starters such as goats cheese & caramelised shallot tart or confit pork belly, black pudding & pea foam; mains like roast cod with chorizo & mixed bean cassoulet or braised oxtail with braised carrots & creamed potatoes.
An interesting recent development at La Brasserie is the Bovine Menu, which focuses on a different breed each week and offers a wide range of beef dishes including some based on unusual cuts (popesye, wing rib, pointend), aged from 21-40 days and with a wide choice of sauces and accompaniments; 40-day Wagyu Sirloin tops the bill at €49.95 for an 8oz/225g steak - and that's sold at cost price "as we believe everyone should try Kobe at least once in their life".
Although à la carte bills can mount alarmingly when sauces and sides are added, La Brasserie is much more accessible than the fine dining restaurant and the early bird and 3-course set dinner menu both offer good value.
* Bon Appetit is available for bespoke weddings and special events. Oliver Dunne also offers demonstration cookery Masterclasses throughout the year; details from the restaurant.