Alexis, Dun Laoghaire.
Paolo Tullio's Review
Every now and then a restaurant opens that gets rave reviews from every restaurant reviewer. Not often, but a couple of times a year. The last time this happened was when The Winding Stair opened on Ormonde Quay in Dublin to rapturous reviews from every publication. It's just happened again with the newly opened Alexis is Dun Laoghaire.
It's probably worth examining just why a restaurant should be able to please all reviewers, and judging by how hard it is to get a table, just about every one else as well. Clearly there's no magic formula, if there was then every restaurant would be able to please everyone, but there are common characteristics. Good food is a given, but you also need good service, a pleasing room in which to enjoy the food, a fairly priced and reasonably extensive wine list, and lastly you need value for money. If a restaurant has all of that in place, then the chances are it'll get great reviews and plenty of customers.
Just about every other reviewer has already been to Alexis. I'm one of the last for a couple of reasons; firstly I don't like going to restaurants in the first few weeks of their opening, and secondly because Ive been unable to get a booking for past few weeks. Eventually I got a table - or more precisely my dining companion Alexis Mitchel did. Yes, I know, who else could I have gone to Alexis with except with Alexis? It had a cosmic certainty about it.
We arrived a bit before eight and found a dining room already filled to capacity. It's a big room too, seating about a hundred people. It's decorated fairly plainly - a varnished wooden floor, simple wooden tables and chairs and banquettes along the side wall. That's a lot of hard surfaces and not surprisingly the noise level is very high with reverberating sound. Still, it gives the place an air of busy bustle and commotion.
We were shown to our table and given menus and shortly afterwards we got a jug of iced water, once upon a time normal restaurant practice and now unusual enough that I notice when it happens. The menu makes distinctions between starters and mains, listing fourteen dishes some of which come in small or large portions. On the night we were there, there were also five daily specials to choose from. All the main courses are under 20, except for Harry Buckley's ten ounce free-range organic sirloin steak, which was priced at 22.50. Some dishes are considerably less than 20: for example the wood pigeon tartlet with braised onion and endive salad is 12.50 as is the home-made gnocchi. For 14.50 you could have braised beef short ribs, a Toulouse cassoulet or a breast of free-range chicken served with taleggio, pancetta and a chilli bean stew.
The last page of the menu is the wine list, fairly short but well-chosen and like the menu, priced for value. There's a dozen or so reds and whites plus a rose, a dessert wine and a few sparklers. there are seven wine at 20 or less and the rest run up to a maximum of 47. The rather delicious Viognier called 'La Linda' from Argentina caught my eye so we ordered that at 23.
For our starters Alexis chose the retro' style seafood cocktail from the daily specials and I picked the French onion soup. The seafood cocktail came in a glass shaped like a cornucopia and was stuffed with all manner of seafood delights in the classic Marie-Rose sauce. As she struggled to finish it Alexis remarked that if you didn't have much of an appetite it could well have done as main course.' My soup was done just as well: served in a proper marmite', topped with croutons covered with melted cheese and with a deep, rich flavour.
At this stage we were already beginning to see why this restaurant has become so successful so quickly. The waiting staff were all charming, quick on their feet and good at their jobs. If I have any misgivings at all about the service it's perhaps that there were too few serving on the night. Six people waiting at tables and a manager seems scant for serving 150 people. A couple more would have things easier for the floor staff and a little brisker for the customers.
For her main course Alexis had chosen the eponymous Alexis' Toulouse cassoulet, while I'd picked the seared scallop and pea risotto. Actually I'd asked for the small version of the risotto, which turned out to have been a good decision, as I wouldn't have finished a plateful any larger than the one I got. The cassoulet was just as you'd have got it in Toulouse; a bed of slow-cooked haricot beans, belly of pork, a Toulouse sausage and a confit of duck. Both of these dishes were excellent, properly made and true to their descriptions.
We decided on a rhubarb crumble between us to finish the meal, priced like all the desserts at 5.50. It was as good as everything else, with just a hint of cinnamon to give it a bite. And just as we were thinking that a coffee would be nice, the lights went out. Not just in Alexis, but in all of Patrick Street. Candles burned and the emergency lighting came on, but the coffee machine was out of service. We wandered outside to the small garden for a cigarette, hoping the power would come back, bit it didn't. I felt sorry for chefs, still working hard but now with no air extraction.
Our bill, prepared by candlelight, came to just 70.50, which is remarkable value for the quality of what we ate. For the moment Alexis is only open at night and for Sunday lunch, but soon they hope to be open for lunch.