Dublin: Bistro One is one of a kind

Bistro One has survived for 22 years and is "cruising in its comfort zone".
Bistro One has survived for 22 years and is "cruising in its comfort zone".

Bistro One,
Brighton Road, Foxrock, Dublin 18;
tel: 01-2897711;
www.bistro-one.ie

Bistro One has survived for 22 years and is “cruising in its comfort zone”. Picture: Nick Bradshaw

HOW many restaurants survive for 22 years? Not many, I’ll wager. That’s the first thing that strikes me as we step through an inconspicuous doorway in Foxrock Village.

In a small font, below the black sign reading ‘Bistro One’ sits a demure but telling little detail: ‘Since 1992.’

It must be doing something right. But what, exactly? Pushing through the tiny doorway, up the stairs and past the old-school coat-check cubbyhole, that’s what we’re here to find out. You might go back once or twice to a place that is only okay, but you wouldn’t keep it in business for 22 years.

The dining room is a discreet space, populated mainly by well-heeled middle-aged and older diners, most of whom appear to be from the neighbourhood.

Staff are young and good-looking, and offerings of some gorgeous breads and a rich, grassy olive oil chime with the good reviews.

Starters are hit and miss, however. A Cashel blue cheese salad combines its buttery piquancy with a nutty crunch (walnuts) and citrus-sharpness (clementines), but another mixing both smoked and poached salmon with puy lentils and egg misses the mark. The salmon is good, but there is no bang to the lentils and leaves, and the egg yolk is on the dry and crumbly side.

Likewise, deep-fried monkfish pieces in a honey-tinged crumb sound delicious, but the small portion is extremely plain. It’s hard to discern the honey, the price tag is €12, and the best we can say for the fish is that it’s not overdone. A wintry wild mushroom risotto seems far better value at €9.

Our mains are more consistent. A pan-fried brill with sauté spinach and hollandaise is the simplest and best-executed dish of the evening, a fluffy fillet folded over on a vibrant nest of green. A roast quail is tender and gamey, adorned with crispy skin and squishy, flavoursome olives and grapes. It’s cooked ‘Tuscan-style’, in a layer of light gravy, and solid value at €19.

A lamp rump is excellently cooked — pink in the middle, tender between the teeth and thinly sliced upon a bed of celeriac, York cabbage and jus. A juicy 28-day aged rib-eye steak smacking of the grill also gets a resounding thumbs-up, even if it is ordered medium and served medium-rare.

Bistro One brings some nice touches, simple things that you’d imagine have been honed over years of experience.

Most wines are available in 25cl and 50cl carafes, for example, as well as by the bottle. This is a commonsense move, especially for parties who don’t wish to share the same drinks, or prefer to match different wines to different courses, and I’m surprised it isn’t more widely practised.

The dining room itself, however, feels flat. There’s an atmospheric little wine bar in a corner, some ritzy mirrors and wooden panels pinpricked with green and red dots of light, but overall this is a bland space, comfortable almost in a corporate sense, but lacking any spark.

Service falls short, too. Water is ordered and forgotten. Wine is asked for rather than offered, and drinks are poured quickly enough for us to wince (would they be knocked over?). It all felt a bit rushed and mechanical, with no love or lingering. And this was on a Wednesday night.

Desserts were good. An almond tart with vanilla custard was a perfect little pick-me-up, and several of us strayed over onto the set menu (three courses for €25) to partake of a tangy lemon posset and a pavlova with passion fruit curd. A vanilla cheesecake was also on offer, along with an Irish cheeseboard, and chocolate fondant with ice cream. The average price was €9.

Bistro One is cruising in its comfort zone. I don’t think food like this would cut it in Ranelagh, Clontarf or Malahide — let alone the city centre, where bistros like Pichet and The Pig’s Ear are dishing up cutting-edge comfort fare at a lower price. But then Bistro One is not in those areas.

Nor have any of those restaurants lasted 22 years. This is posh nosh that serves its neighbourhood well. I’m not particularly enamoured of the place, but then I’m just a blow-in.

THE TAB: Dinner for six with a bottle of wine came to €261 (ie, €87 per couple). Tip extra.

HOW TO: Tuesday to Saturday; lunch, 12pm to 2.45pm; dinner, 6pm to 10.30pm

The verdict:
Food: 6/10
Ambiance: 5/10
Service: 4/10
Wine: 6/10
Value: 5/10

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