Café en Seine, 40 Dawson Street,Dublin 2. Tel: 01-6774567
SO what would you do with €4 million? Well reportedly the folk in the Mercantile Group spent this on a refurbishment of their superpub Café en Seine. The group also own Whelans, The George, Opium and Pichet, all of which merit it needs to be said, but it still depresses me rather profoundly to hear about that much money being spent on essentially chairs, lights and furniture.
In the same week that I visited Joe Macken’s restaurants (Hey Donna, Crackbird, etc) went into liquidation — a huge loss to Dublin. Joe fitted out his restaurants with a mix of IKEA and careful scrounging and the city loved them (and him) — there was genuine excitement at a new Joe Macken venture. He was the polar opposite of the Mercantile or Press-Up groups and I think Dublin needs him more.
The original Café en Seine opened in 1993 became a symbol of the economic recovery of those years — it was brash and completely over the top and also suited the boom 2000s. Mark 2 is much the same but more so, a lot more. Spread across seven areas with two long bars, a cocktail bar, balconies, and a large indoor-outdoor area with a retractable glass roof and trees — one alarmingly kitsch wall is meant to look like a Parisian street with fake shop fronts including a rather odd ‘Jazz shop’ that seemed to be selling little statues of black people.
The restaurant area has a more 1920s feel and the menu is indeed appropriate for a 2018 bar with lots of snacks and some larger dishes such (eg, rib of beef for €75). We began with the ultimate bar food — Padron Peppers, and at a fiver for 16 peppers they are good value. They were still smoking and nicely charred with a decent (if unnecessary) lemon mayonnaise dip but without a hint of spice. If you order Padrons in Pontevedre or Santiago de Compestela every fifth or sixth is spicy hot, sometimes blisteringly so, this Pepper Russian Roulette is an essential part of their charm.
Toasted Sourdough bread was good and the pleasant but bland coriander and lemon hummus dip worked, but best of all were the salted almonds and olives. Tuna Sashimi (€10) with watermeon, yuzu and ponzu was spanking fresh and the watermelon added freshness and sweetness but the yuzu and ponzu sauce were barely noticeable so blandness ruled again. Crispy duck wings (€12) with miso and chilli were easily the best course of the meal — shaped into lollypop drumsticks, they were sticky sweet and packed with rich umami flavours.
The drinks list is a decent size and my guest’s Gin-Ger Berry cocktail (€13) was competent but did not quite live up to the ‘eye-opening’ description on the menu, it was merely pleasant. From the reasonably useful wine list our bottle of Little Yering Pinot Noir (€38) worked well and was at the correct temperature (c. 14C.).
At this point we were happy enough if not quite excited and looking forward to our mains — what can go wrong with a burger and a roast chicken?
Sure enough the burger was correctly cooked with an appropriate touch of pink and the Coolea cheese and brioche bun were fine but a bizarre decision was made to omit onions, mayonnaise and ketchup and replace them with a rather harsh mustard that overwhelmed all other flavours, rocket only made it worse.
My nduja rotisserie chicken needed much longer cooking (the meat should fall away) and the njuja rub detracted rather than added to the dish — the skin being the best part of rotisserie chicken. The chips served with both mains were mediocre in the extreme.
Things improved with the deserts and my Pedro Ximenez Crème Brulée was correctly made while a Peanut Parfait with chunks of honeycomb and chocolate mousse was also reasonably tasty and well executed.
So in the season of goodwill I shouldn’t be mean and I’m sure most people will enjoy the people watching and the expensive furniture but I wish they’d given just some of the €4m to Joe Macken.