Monday, September 21, 2009

Tastes from my Travels - L'Ecrivain (Dublin)

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

I've been to Dublin a few times in the past. Once on a weekend break about 7 years ago and once on a massive piss-up disguised as a "company offsite". When I heard my cousin, who I hadn't seen for about 7 years, was heading across the pond from Seattle, I decided to give him an experience other than London and booked a mini-break over to Dublin.

I was fairly clueless as to what to see, do and, most importantly, eat and was rescued by Twitter once again. I didn't even put the word out, I just mentioned I was off and the flood of recommendations came in. Best take this opportunity to thank @kehoeser, @thedailyspud, @icanhascook, @euzie, @eatlikeagirl and all the Irishmen in my office for supplying far too many places to pack into my short 3 day trip.

I really wanted to sample the best of Dublin and the name L'Ecrivain kept coming up. A little bit of research showed that Dublin has 5 Michelin starred restaurants, L'Ecrivain (meaning "the author) coveting one of these stars so it went to the top of my hit list.

A late arrival into Dublin (due to a "clerical" error with Ryanair) meant we had time to dump our bags and freshen up before we headed to the restaurant. A short stroll along the canal, our first pint of Guinness and we were there.

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

Located in a small courtyard, hidden away from mainstream Dublin life, it took us away from the traffic gently bubbling along Baggott street and led us into the homely and ultimately welcoming interior. Its pretty hard to describe what this restaurant is like. It immediately oozes charm, with a small bar area and grand piano towards the back of the ground floor facing you as you enter, bordered by their private dining room. Most of the action takes place upstairs where there are various levels, although we were seated in the lofty main dining room. There is even a canopied outside balcony for additional seating, if the impulse for al fresco dining ever takes you.

In the evening, they do have a rather hefty a la carte menu, but we were very much settled on the 7 course dinner menu, reasonably priced at 65 Euro. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was eager and hungry, an excellent combination in preparation for the impending feast!

(I'm going to apologise for the slightly dodgy pics to follow. It was dark. Not too dark, just too dark for my standard point and click)

Amuse Bouche - Carrot veloute, coconut foam

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

A sensational little opener. The slightly sweet velvety carrot soup slid down a treat, the coconut foam adding an extra dimension, almost transforming this into a subtle Asian curry. As it went down, I felt a slight heat tickling the back of my throat. A touch of cumin and curry powder perhaps? Did exactly what it said on the tin, lit up my taste buds in anticipation for the starter.

Starter - Goats Cheese beignet, caramelised walnuts, fine herb risotto and broccoli puree

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

Salty, salty deep fried goats cheese. May not be everybody's favourite cheese, but I'm a big fan. This little chunk was topped with a sweet relish adding balance (not forgetting the caramelised walnuts too, sweet and crunchy. Balance and texture!). Honestly, didn't think the risotto added a whole lot to the overall dish, felt a bit like padding. However, the deep green broccoli puree certainly delivered with a clean hit of broccoli, complementing the richness of the cheese with an aspect of freshness.

Palate Cleanser - Pink grapefruit granita with cranberry jelly

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

After the strong flavours of the last dish, we really needed something to give us that lift so we could move onto the main and boy did this deliver. The pink grapefruit granita was a sensation. It felt a bit strange to be having a sweet in between our savoury courses. But this was so fresh and zingy, every little mouthful just cleansed all the salty richness of the goats cheese right out of our mouths, yet kept those taste buds firing. The cranberry jelly was a little sloppy and felt totally lost in this dish, I couldn't even taste it. I didn't really care though, I just wanted more of that granita.

Main - Challans duck breast, confit leg crumble, beetroot and celeriac puree, Savoy cabbage, garlic foam

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

There were lots of constituent parts to this dish and started by trying each bit individually. The duck (both ways) was sensational, packed full with that slightly gamey flavour that duck has. The confit crumble just fell apart and packed in the essence of duck, I really wish there had been a tiny bit more. The beetroot puree tasted of the earth and its natural sweetness was a nice accompaniment to the duck, a nice contrast to ducks normal fruity bedfellows. Celeriac is one vegetable I don't tend to eat very often, but after tasting the puree, I want to go and buy some just in the vain hope that I may be able to replicate the sensational flavours. The garlic foam on its own was bitter and not very nice at all, but packing a little bit of everything onto the fork, it added that hint of garlic to the back of your throat, finishing off the mouthful. Phew! A lot to get through, but so worth it. Seriously good cooking.

Pre Dessert - Banoffee Pie Sundae

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

I often sit and wonder what in the world could be better than a banoffee pie (I really do). The answer I now know is simple, banoffee pie in a glass! A simple execution but why mess with perfection? One thing I did notice were the two different types of toffee. The one on top was much lighter and more of a caramel, a nice touch.

Dessert - Chocolate Pave with Pistachio Ice cream

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

OOF! The final course. Stuffed on the verge of bursting, I looked at my cousin and we said we would have to try and cross the finishing line. After all, we had already come this far. The last course was pretty straightforward in execution and relied on great ingredients to produce that wow factor. The chocolate was excellent, thick and glossy. Each mouthful coated every single taste bud on your tongue. Pistachio ice cream is by far and away my favourite flavour and was excellent, not an ice crystal in sight. This was accompanied by some pistachio praline, an interesting take on a traditional praline. I looked over at my cousin and he had hoovered his up. "I thought you were full", I said. He looked over at me guiltily and shrugged, "Couldn't help it, it was so good."

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

And he was right, the whole damn meal had been amazing. No dishes were particularly mind blowing, but the sequences of the dishes, the quality of the cooking and more importantly, the ingredients, the combination of flavours and textures, it all just worked.

As we sipped our coffee and stared at the petit fours (these would later be wrapped up and taken home. No more food was to pass our lips), we turned to each other and enthusiastically discussed what had just taken place. We talked about what we liked best, what we didn't like as much and what really surprised us. Two normal guys talking about exemplary cooking. Simply, that's what good food does, it makes people talk. If you're ever in Dublin, L'Ecrivain is definitely worth the visit. Get down there and prepare for a great experience, and hopefully, great memories.

L'Ecrivain (Website) - 109 a Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2

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