Think of the beautiful lines Danish architect Jørn Utzon used — more than half a century years ago — to shape the sublimely beautiful Sydney Opera House. Kevin Roche used the same vocabulary when he designed Dublin’s conference centre. By slightly skewing the invitation offered to the eye these unexpected shapes control the space they fill in a peculiarly submissive but very dominant way.
Can simple ingredients be combined to have that kind of same impact? Of course they can but that seemingly simple challenge confounds far more restaurants than it rewards.
Pat Kiely, chef and owner with his wife Soizic, of Les Gourmandises is one of those chefs who stands firmly on the reward side of that line. Concentrating on fine French dining, he makes simple and beautiful ingredients into something even more beautiful. Using effort and imagination, he produces cheering and deeply comforting food and, after all, there’s not much more anyone can ask of a restaurant.
We’ve — DW and I — been several times and our last visit reminded us of why we enjoy it so much. DW started with a tasting plate and enjoyed a range of tastes and textures. She had patè, gazpacho and a truly lovely sliver of perfectly cooked John Dory on a base of peas and mint.
I had prawns in filo pastry with mango crème fraiche and a mango jelly.
Sometimes writing about food, even if in the most peripheral way, can run along similar lines to cooking it. The same traps of excess lie in wait. The possibility to over egg, to use more when less would be better, lurk around the next sentence. So, in this instance, it is difficult to describe the absolute joy brought by individual shellfish wrapped in pasty and all set off by a sweet, understated accompaniment of mango and crème fraiche blended, without sounding slightly daft. It was one of the most pleasurable plates anyone has ever given me. If Jørn Utzon — or Kevin Roche — had been a chef he could have been proud to make something that, on the face of it, seems so simple but gave such pleasure.
For a main course DW chose roasted duck leg from the prix fixe menu (€27.50 for two courses, €29.50 for three) and it was excellent. Moist, flavoursome and well set off by black cherries and a smidgen of foie gras.
I, as ever, was more self indulgent and chose from the dinner menu (€38.50 and €45.00) opting for slow cooked shoulder of lamb. It had that depth of taste that only slow cooking seems to uncover and was as tender as could be, more wispiness than meat.
It should be pointed out that each menu offered more than enough choice and for food as wonderful as this represented very good value.
To close DW asked for poached plums, lemon possette and almond financier, I had pistachio panacotta with black cherries and chocolate cake. Both were a lovely conclusion to a memorable meal.
The wine was a very nice Domaine Des Nugues, a name worth remembering.
Some decades ago Eamon Dunphy, speaking from his perch on the high moral ground, described most sports writers as fans with typewriters. In this instance I’m more than happy to plead guilty.
Les Gourmandises is, as the winner of the Best Restaurant in Ireland accolade from the Restaurants’ Association of Ireland for 2011 acknowledges, a wonderful place to eat. It has earned the right to be considered one of Ireland’s benchmark restaurants.