Despite its popularity Dax manages to feel delightfully exclusive, like a secret club frequented by foodies and wine buffs in the know. Its low-key basement setting on the quieter end of Pembroke Street doesn’t attract passersby after dark, so the regularly packed restaurant is the result of its cooking repertoire and impeccable hospitality.
Since opening in 2004, this French outpost – named for the Gallic hometown of proprietor Olivier Meissonave – has been consistent, understated and elegant.
The little wine bar inside the door has always been a perfect spot for aperitifs, diners now also have the choice of sitting upstairs to have a drink in the buzzy Dax Café Bar, a newer venture serving breakfast, lunch and evening tapas.
Dax juxtaposes rustic decor (think low lighting, wall sconces, an old iron fireplace and stone floor slabs) with the fine dining essentials of large tables, starched white linen cloths and generous glasses. It’s a comfortable space, with subtle divisions allowing a more romantic dining experience for couples away from the main dining area.
Dax’s menu is studded with luxurious ingredients like king scallops, blue lobster, fillet of Irish Charolais beef and duck foie gras, all paired with clever and imaginative accompaniments.
Starters might include a perfect piece of yellow fin tuna crusted with sesame seeds and served with Parma ham wafers, confit tomatoes, black olive tapenade, almond crunch and aged sherry vinaigrette; or perhaps a colourful salad of goats curd with globe artichokes, black figs, and candied macadamia nuts dressed in a white balsamic and truffle honey dressing.
The kitchen is equally adept with seafood and meat, using a mixture of classic French techniques and fusion ideas. A lighter fillet of cod with garden pea purée, broad beans, crispy pancetta and almond foam may sit alongside the more robust roast squab pigeon with mushroom sausage, beetroot purée, new season garlic, radish and medjoul date jus. Presentation is beautiful and the charming and attentive service befits the classic cuisine.
This Dublin restaurants wine list is a real treat, unapologetically French in content. Knowledgeable staff will help with recommendations; from the 18 wines by the glass or 12 half bottles to match each course, to the vast cellar of grand cru bottles and Bordeaux classics. While Francophiles are especially well catered for, there’s a nod to other major European growers too.
Portions are generous and, while prices are high, the food is some of the best in the city. Desserts, such as a raspberry soufflé with raspberry sauce or a dark chocolate fondant with almond milk ice cream, and the pretty petit fours, celebrate the very best of French culinary tradition.
Dax’s lunchtime service sees a popular two-course menu served up in double-quick time, ensuring you’ll get back to your desk in time. By night Dax’s surprise tasting menu, served by table only, costs €75, and is the perfect way to sample the skill on offer in this atmospheric and well loved little spot.
Above the restaurant, Dax Café Bar occupies the whole ground floor of this classic Georgian building, providing a large and stylish open plan space that’s well suited to holding events (including charity evenings, and even weddings) and showing big rugby matches, as well as providing the smart-casual food and drinks that the local business community loves.
The two front rooms flanking the front door lead into a larger one that runs right across the back of the building and sports a handsome hardwood bar paired with comfortable bar stools along its length.
Like the restaurant below, the décor blends rusticity and urban chic in a classy mix of old and new, with wall mounted candelabra and big mirrors set against soft grey walls, leather chesterfields, a choice of high stools and low seating.
It has the great buzz of a busy modern café: noisy, perhaps, and you may need to raise your voice to be heard in a group, but that’s the making of it, and it creates a comfortable atmosphere for people dining on their own.
Prompt, friendly and efficient service is key to this buzzy café’s appeal, especially for those looking for a quick and tasty lunch.
Menus are designed with this in mind, and kept very simple: a lunchtime choice of fresh homemade soup of day, gourmet sandwiches, salads, and platters of cheese and charcuterie are all top quality and quick, and the same applies whether you’re calling in for breakfast, lunch, or for some tapas with something delicious from the impressive drinks menu in the evening.
Dax Café Bar: Mon 7.30am - 5pm; Tue - Fri 7.30am-late; Sat - 4.30pm-late. Closed Sun.