I’M NOT sure how many points opening — or in this case rejuvenating — a restaurant registers in the National Optimism Rebuilding Programme.
(or Program if it was dreamt up by a highly-you-know-what consultant) but it must be at least on a par with bringing a decent wedge on a punting trip to Cheltenham or paying into an Irish defined benefit pension scheme. No matter how you dress up the ambition, the risk/reward ratio is pretty tight.
There are very few businesses as dependent on fickle fancy and even in the best of times a restaurant needs more than a build-it-and-they-will-come determination to survive much less thrive. But, hallelujah, that kind of courage does not seem to be in short supply as there has been an outbreak of enthusiasm in the sector. In the last while a few new names have appeared — the very enjoyable Pier 26 in Ballycotton and the impressive Square Table in Blarney are just two — and the revamped Huguenot under a new management is another.
The Huguenot French Bistro & Wine Bar began a new life in September when Brendan Cashman, he of the wonderful and much lamented Augustines, and the Italian restaurant Gallo & Galetti in Cork’s Bishopstown, joined with businessman Richard O’Brien to bring what they call “a casual and affordable model to Carey’s Lane”, offering “the highest quality French-style food, sourced locally from artisan suppliers”, and even if there are maybe too many hostages to fortune in that one half sentence they have done a pretty good job.
The food is a Prestbury Park furlong ahead of the usual casual affair and even if the odd shortcut was taken — more about that later — the menu reflected well-informed care and just enough adventure to make it stand out from most of its peers in the city centre. We, DW and I, tried to book a Friday night table at eight o’clock but were offered one earlier or later; they said they were very busy ... and so it transpired. Every table was full and as one was vacated it had new tenants pretty quickly. If that interest can be sustained — and the standard of the food we enjoyed is too — then the project will be a success.
DW began with a warm salad of smoked duck breast with fig purée, golden raisins, celeriac remoulade and it looked and tasted every bit as nice as it read. Decent duck, not overcooked or dry, and, if the right form of the word can be applied, authentic. A good, simple opener that matched the promise of the menu. I began with mussels in a standard white wine, shallots and cream sauce. Mussels can be magnificent if they are really fresh and well-handled or they can be rubbery, ordinary and dull. These were closer to the lower end of that scale, and though a lovely sauce did more than its share to lift the dish, as did the generous portion, it was not as good as the rest of the dishes that evening.
For her main course DW chose pithivier – fine puff pastry tart with roast pepper, sundried tomatoes, wild mushrooms and goat’s cheese — which she enjoyed even if the sceptic in me suggested that it was no more than an inverted pizza. It was, though, a thoroughly satisfying main course for someone happy to forego meat or fish. There are some Friday nights when only a steak and a decent red wine will do and this was one. The Huguenot ribeye with garlic butter — at €24.50, the only main course north of €20 on the menu — hit the nail on the head; really good beef cooked as requested and set off very nicely with potatoes and crispy-fresh vegetables. Simple but almost unsurpassable when done properly as this was.
For her dessert DW chose — and this is what it said on the menu — lemon and lime posset with chocolate and honeycomb. The lemon and lime part was fine but the “chocolate and honeycomb” was a corner of a Crunchie bar crumbled over the dish. Hardly a capital offence but a shabby, cheapo short cut that provokes suspicions where there should be none. I had chocolate truffles and sherry. Four or five intensely rich sweets set off wonderfully by a small glass of intense flavour. Very nice indeed.
This is a mid-market restaurant with good service set in an airy, open space and the bill won’t break the bank. And the food is good enough to make the grade in a cut-throat market.
Dinner for two, three courses with wine and an Irish coffee and tea came to €119.15, tip extra
Wine bar: Tuesday to Saturday from 12. Bistro Tuesday to Saturday from 5.30
Huguenot French Bistro & Wine Bar,
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