L’Ecrivain, 109a Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2, 01 6611919, www.lecrivain.com
Choosing a restaurant to review every week is always a bit of a dilemma. It is a little like choosing a book to read – I like to keep up with new fiction but it often disappoints, and it is frequently a pleasurable relief to return to the classics.
To re-read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammet, Madame Bovary or Aunt Julia and The Scriptwriter is a different, and often a more rewarding pleasure as old memories and emotions entwine with new.
L’Écrivain is deservedly considered a classic by now – it opened in 1990 and is celebrating 28 years in business, a seriously impressive run.
I remember vividly going for both dinner and lunch in its original basement location on the corner of Baggot St. and Fitzwilliam St. in the early ‘90s.
It was probably here that I first fell in love with fine dining – for around £13 you could get a three course lunch with excellent bread and snacks and perfectly pink lamb or duck breast and sometimes bonus bits of foie and caviar (or perhaps that is my fevered imagination).
I took the Engineer here in 1992 when she got a big job (we were only going out a few weeks), and I still have memories of a saffron sauce from that meal and Derry Clarke lingering in the hallway to ask rather nervously if we had enjoyed our meal.
I must have eaten here 40 times and can barely remember a dud course.
Head chefs have come and gone but Derry is still there at the pass almost every night and Sally-Anne is at front of house, although thankfully on the Monday night I visited the staff that know me were off and I remained incognito. It is worth noting by the way that l’Ecrivain is open on Mondays, almost everywhere else of note is closed.
Fluffy light focaccia and nutty dark Guinness bread arrived first and were soon followed by (a gratis) scallop amuse-bouche. The scallop was perfectly caramelized and tender and its sweet nutty deliciousness was lifted lightly by some green apple sticks and a cucumber granita.
My starter of Crispy Chicken Wings with Langoustine (€24) had fun lollipop style wings with pristine fresh langoustine and some nuggets of sweetcorn to add texture and sweetness. The black garlic sauce managed to lift the flavours rather than overpower (no mean feat) and this was a balanced fun dish.
My guest’s Kilkeel Crab came wrapped in a thin strip of kohlrabi which added some welcome texture and a hint of bitterness while apple, macadamia nut and dill lifted and played nicely with the sweet fresh crab.
A palate cleanser of zingy fresh Mint and Lime Granita was pitch perfect and followed by the two best dishes of the night. Seared perfectly pink Magret Duck (€38) breast with a croquette from the confit leg plus baby leeks and sweet Cévenne onions.
Spring Lamb Rump (€42) with Parmesan Gnocchi, Globe Artichoke hearts and Samphire was finely judged and an intriguing mix of flavours – the earthy artichokes and salty samphire adding depth to the sweet grassy lamb and some extra umami and texture added by the gnocchi.
Both mains had bonus (in season) Girolle mushrooms and perfectly rendered jus – the primary joy in eating in a restaurant at this level for me is almost always the expert saucing.
Salcheto Nobile di Montepulciano (€55), from Tuscany was packed with bitter cherry richness and soft plum fruits and was a fine foil for both duck and lamb.
Nobile di Montepulciano is often more exciting and intriguing than Chianti unless you splash out, and this was no exception.
Dessert (€15) of bright fresh peach mousse came with a sponge crumb, peach cream and sorbet and the fruit flavours were balanced by a creamy milk chocolate ganache.
Yoghurt Parfait with raspberries, meringue and yoghurt sorbet was light and fresh with just enough sweetness while allowing the tang of the yoghurt to add contrast and character.
As you will notice below this meal cost more than the average but cooking with these ingredients at this standard in such surroundings could never be inexpensive. The word classic and all the positive connotations of that word tell you all you need to know.