Dax Restaurant, 23 Pembroke Street Upper, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01-6761494; www.dax.ie
Food obsessives of my acquaintance love lists.
Not just where is the best restaurant or chef but the best French wine list, best game cooking, best pastry, best restaurant for a second date, best restaurant to break off a relationship and so on.
It is an endless game but l guarantee if you play this with Dubliners then Dax will get frequent mention for its wine list, its devotion to the cooking of South West France, its foie gras, its charm and as one of the most discreet restaurants in the city given its basement location near Fitzwilliam Square surrounded by offices.
Olivier Meisonnave opened Dax in 2004 and named it after his home town in the Landes and has been through a few head chefs over the years.
The ambiance and wine was always wonderful and the cooking has always been excellent but rarely outstanding — until now.
Last April Dax moved up a gear, had a full makeover and convinced Graham Neville to run the kitchen — Meisonnave and Neville worked together in Thorntons back in its Portobello days and are clearly relishing working together again.
Neville was behind the stove in Restaurant 41 for a number of years and his cooking received high praise here one year ago.
I feel a little guilty that it took so long to visit Dax but I was keen for the new dishes and menu to be fully bedded in and I finally visited on a warm Wednesday evening in mid-November.
I consciously chose the guest that joined me in No 41 a year ago as she knows Neville’s cooking well and I also knew she would enjoy a bit of a blow-out.
And it is a small bit of a blow-out, Neville’s cooking is complex and uses the finest ingredients there are, and remember that such dedication to perfection costs money — you can spend a lot more for a lot less.
Dax only offers an à la carte menu with five starters, mains and desserts.
Starters cost €15-€20 and mains from €29-€34 and while we dithered (everything sounded tempting) we sipped our way through a half-bottle of brioche and dried lemon scented Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Champagne for €48.
Yes this was an extravagance but Dax is not a place to skimp.
For our wine we chose a textured fragrant Northern Italian Friulano DOC Collio from Marco Scolaris on the advice of Olivier — it was good advice.
Our first taste of the evening was a pure Graham Neville dish it seemed to us — an amuse bouche with fresh crab given some perfect contrasting textures from sweet potato crispy bits and mussels, each lifted by the other.
Clogherhead Lobster and Prawn Ravioli (€17) was a thick disc of sweet shellfish in a melting and silken purse of pasta and an intense umami-rich Thermidor sauce.
My Seared Foie Gras duck liver was matched with Poached Quince and Preserved Elderberry (€19) and was surprisingly firm textured.
Frequently seared foie gras just melts in the mouth and is almost pure fat while this was distinctly firm and textured with a much fuller flavour.
I discussed the texture at length with Olivier and I think he is correct — the significantly denser texture brought out a mix of more subtle but also more pungent flavours, aided and abetted by the quince and elderberries.
Roasted Pigeon, Veal Sweetbreads, Braised Coco Beans and Tarragon Sauce (€29) was perfectly rare while still (just) cooked.
The sweetbreads were rich and complex and contrasted nicely as did the beans and the spikey sauce.
Getting game this right is not easy and in recent weeks I’d had two unpleasantly raw game birds served to me but Neville’s achieved silken gamey perfection.
Fillet of Turbot, Crushed Jerusalem Artichoke, Pumpkin and Sherry Sauce (€33) was expertly cooked (as Neville’s fish always is) and all worked in harmony.
Gin and Tonic Macaroon tasted as it sounds with a masterful gel of pure juniper atop the crispy-creamy macaron and herself’s Chocolate Fondant flowed perfectly and was lifted nicely by salted caramel ice-cream.
Both Meisonnave and Neville have been demonstrating mastery of their crafts for years now but in joining forces in Dax they have I think become greater than the sum of their parts.
Dax is just about perfect.
A luxurious dinner for two including a half bottle of Champagne, a bottle of quality white wine, starters, mains and desserts cost €195.50
Lunch: Tue-Sat – 12.30-2.30pm
Dinner: Tue-Sat - 5.30-10.30pm
In a sentence: A charming discreet French restaurant and a beautifully cooked meal from a chef at the tip-top of his game (again!).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved