ONCE upon a time, there used to be a restaurant in Dublin by the name of Les Frère Jacques, an establishment overseen for almost 30 years by Jean Jacques Caillabet.
His story is worth recalling. Caillabet moved from Brittany to Ireland in the late 70s, when he opened two French brasseries — one in Cork (Café de Paris, Queen’s Old Castle) and one in Dublin (Galeria Café de Paris, St Stephen’s Green).
In the mid-80s, he closed down these restaurants in order to concentrate on a new venture, the Dublin-based, upmarket Les Frère Jacques, which was an instant success.
In the restaurant business, as with everything else, however, matters evolve in ways you can’t foresee, and so those legendary long lunches of the 80s, 90s and some of the Noughties gradually disappeared.
Late-night dining habits also changed, what with the smoking ban and the crackdown on drink-driving, and so — while the going was still reasonably good, and there was some mileage left in the tank — last year Caillabet announced his retirement.
And yet it’s always difficult to remove yourself from what you love the most, isn’t it?
Which is why Caillabet’s son, Julien, who has based himself in Dublin after time spent in Australia (and before that, in London) learning the trade from his very experienced father, and many others, is now at the helm of Jules.
Situated on Dame Street, sandwiched between the Olympia theatre and Brogan’s Bar, you could say that, in Irish restaurant terms, Jules is standing on the shoulders of giants.
There is reputation and much regarded history here that is passed down from father to son, but we’re glad to say that Julien is very much his own man.
All remnants of Les Frère Jacques have disappeared, and the jauntier Jules has been refurbished and recalibrated to convey a less formal French eating experience.
Indeed, there’s a hint of the kind of unconventionality that has clearly been drawn from Julien’s experiences in Sydney and Melbourne — there is a greater sense of space, and shades and tones directly complement each other.
The only drawback is that the music sounds as if it were culled from the jukebox of a burger joint – this place needs something much better than wall-to-wall generic soul/pop.
There are two levels – ground floor and upstairs. As you enter the premises, there is an appealing lead-in area that houses a bar counter and a row of high stools.
Even if you’re not peckish, this is fine for a pre-theatre glass of wine, but it’s unlikely you’d leave here without being tempted to check out the menu.
We are shown upstairs to a small room that is brightly lit, smartly attired, and with a bird’s eye view of the room below.
Presumably, the lack of a breadbasket is an economic decision on the part of the owners, so we go right into choosing a bottle of Crios de Susana, an Argentinean Malbec, and then our starters: a dish of warm olives (with tomato sugo), pork belly parcels (with watercress and apple salad), scallops & mussels (with mash and garlic butter).
The olives are beautifully crunchy, the pork belly could have been crunchier, and the fish is perfect.
Mains are crab linguine, duck & orange crepe, and grilled half lobster. If the first two are good examples of the kind of nutritious comfort food that Jules delivers very well, then the lobster disappoints.
We know size shouldn’t matter, but there is little meat in our portion, and the rather pitiful, plain side salad garnish only adds to the sense that we have been short changed.
Two side portions of hand cut chips (salted to death, and heavenly to eat) balance out things, but it is still a black mark difficult to wash off.
We share a single dessert – passion fruit cups, cleverly presented in fruit skins, are deliciously creamy and topped with brittle crème brûlée.
We had arrived by 6pm, and within two hours were back out on Dame Street; it was, therefore, short and sweet, but we had a decent meal that was enhanced by a genial atmosphere, fresh décor, nice people and economically astute pricing. Jules isn’t reinventing anything, but the family tradition of delivering the goods continues.
Dinner for three, with wine, came to €116, €15 tip.
Tuesday-Sunday, noon-11pm. Closed Mondays.
In a sentence: A city centre restaurant that is smart, bright, reasonably priced located between a theatre and a pub. What’s not to like?
Jules, 74 Dame Street, Dublin 2; tel: 01-6794555; www.veryjules.com
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