I have particularly fond memories of the £13.50 three-course lunch Derry Clarke used to offer when l’Ecrivain was still in its original basement location.
I was in my early 20s and it felt like the most decadent thing imaginable to be eating food of such quality in the middle of the day.
What made that old l’Ecrivain room so perfect was that you felt hidden, cosseted in the basement with virtually no risk of being spotted.
There was always plenty of choice in Dublin for a decent lunch but this peaked during the boom years.
Following the economic crash in 2008 many restaurants were forced to curtail their lunch offering as it simply didn’t pay.
My current favourite lunch restaurant however is Pearl Brasserie, possibly the best lunch restaurant in Dublin. In addition it is the only fine dining restaurant that is open for lunch (and dinner) every day except Sunday.
Hence it was the obvious choice on a recent rainy Monday for a lunch with a good friend to discuss a project we are working on.
Of course we ended up talking more about the food, but we can only thank the restaurant for that, not blame them.
French chef Sebastian Masi opened Pearl Brasserie in December 2000 in a downstairs space beside the Merrion Hotel and Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud (where Masi began his career in Dublin).
The room was much darker in those early years but is now one of the smartest and most comfortable dining rooms in the city.
Best of all there are nooks and crannies perfect for discussing that secret business deal, hiding from your boss or co-workers, or for an intimate meal with your significant other (and yes they are open tomorrow for Valentine’s Day).
I’ve eaten in Pearl many times over the years and and while I always liked the food it seems to me that Masi is currently doing some of his best work.
There is a subtlety and sophistication about the cooking here and a two course lunch is good value at €25 per person.
As well as some excellent home-made bread served with butter and a pesto dip, our meal began with a complimentary amuse-bouche — Dublin bay prawn in spring roll pastry with bean sprouts and a nicely focused mango and black pepper dressing.
This dish was also on the table d’hôte starter list and was so good that we both wondered if we should have ordered it as a full course.
As it happened, however, both our starters were equally worthy and my guest’s Parsnip Velouté was arguably the most finely tuned course of the meal.
The soup was enriched by a foie gras and chestnut mousse and off-set with Alasce bacon foam. Crucially, the texture was perfect — earthy and rich but also silky and smooth.
Goats Cheese Parfait with smoked tomato, kalamata olives, apple balsamic and fennel managed to be fresh and perky while also tasting light and delicate and was also an enjoyable first course.
However, if you visit and are presented with similar choices, I would opt for the velouté or the prawns.
The wine list is fairly priced and has a significant focus on France but also includes some other European and New World wines.
Our bottle of Marc Brédif Vouvray cost €42 and knitted in well with all of our dishes and was a reminder of just how well Loire Chenin Blanc works with food.
Perfectly cooked sea bream with carrot and cumin purée managed to taste fresh and delicate but also winter-warming.
My guest’s roasted jerusalem artichokes with gnocchi and baby spinach was more filling.
Our two sides of garden peas and parmesan and homemade fries turned out to be completely unnecessary and we regretted our greediness.
For dessert a lychee and raspberry mille-feuille with a raspberry coulis was a satisfying finish.
So now that we are told the economy is picking up a little is it time that lunch made a comeback?
Pearl Brasserie would be an excellent place to start.
Lunch for two with two starters, two mains, one dessert, two sides, coffee and petit-fours, plus one sparkling water and bottle of wine: €117.50 (excluding tip).
Open for lunch and dinner
Monday to Saturday 12.30-2.30, 6-10.30pm
A modern French restaurant serving finely-executed food in a relaxed and intimate se setting, perfect for a showy lunch or intimate rendezvous.