The closely packed tables in Arnaud Mary and Patrice Garreau’s well-named French restaurant in Waterford don’t matter too much - the decor is basic, with pine tables, paper napkins, and menus that double as paper table mats, and it all adds up to a cheerful bistro atmosphere.
Three menus are offered, an early bird, an à la carte and the day’s specials – a large selection (6 starters and 6 mains) is offered on the blackboard as well as the place mat à la carte; the early dinner menu (5.30 to 7) is extremely good value, and even includes a glass of house wine, which is unusually generous.
Expect typical French bistro and ‘gran’mère’ cooking at its best: for starters there are good soups (fish, perhaps) and excellent breads (Arnaud has a French bakery in the town), then maybe silky foie gras with wild mushrooms, accompanied by a little shot glass of liver foam with diced mushrooms and some onion marmalade (an ambitious dish that comes off beautifully), or delicious interleaved potato and melt-in-the-mouth ox tongue with diced vegetables.
Main courses could include a nicely timed John Dory with tiny spring vegetables – or a masterful dish of 6 hour lamb, which still keeps its shape but is as tender as butter; accompanied by crisp French beans and carrots and a very intense jus, it is a triumph.
The offering is different from other restaurants in the area - there is a high level of skill here and a good old fashioned sense that cheaper cuts of meat will be used and properly; menus may also offer luxurious items like foie gras, or lobster, but the same philosophy applies.
Finish, perhaps with a classic hot chocolate soufflé (wonderful liquid chocolate insides, served with vanilla ice cream ) or a Temptation Plate sampler of delicious desserts. Impeccable presentation on big square white plates shows off the food well, so it looks as good as it tastes.
With consistently delicious, keenly priced, food and friendly service from French and Irish waiting staff, the whole impression is of eating in a really good French bistro, rare today even in France.