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Je Salue La Maison

Published on October 16th, 2013 | by TheDiningRoom.ie

Olivier Quenet initially worked in Ireland at Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, the kitchen of which is pretty demanding. Since then he has been involved in a number of projects but he is back, now, at La Maison on Castle Market in the heart of Dublin 2 and his cooking, I can report, is better than ever.

There is no doubt that Olivier is a very fine chef and he can cook in the classical tradition as well as the simpler idiom. It¹s the latter that he¹s now showcasing at La Maison.

When I first reviewed La Maison for the Irish Daily Mail some years ago, I was initially seduced by its sheer unadulterated Frenchness, from the prints on the wall, to the food from the kitchen, from the sparkling stemware and crisp linen to the very aromas of cooking.

In that respect it hasn¹t changed but I think the cooking has, just a little. By which I mean it¹s now even better.

When we repaired there last week, we did the sensible thing and let Olivier decide what he was going to cook for us. It¹s a wonderful way to dine and Olivier knows me well enough at this stage to know exactly what presses the right buttons for me.

We had a feast. A slightly decadent feast, I have to admit, and every detail was beyond fault.

We started with toasted sourdough on which we spread generous quantities of La Maison¹s own salty, tangy tapenade and then proceeded to an exquisite little amuse bouche: a single scallop, cooked on its own shell until just done and then anointed with a mixture of butter, lemon juice and a suggestion of parsley. It was moist, tender, perfect.

Then on to Dublin Bay prawns which were as fresh as the morning dew and served in their shells in a colander with one of the best examples of homemade mayonnaise I¹ve tasted in a very long time (with a fine mustard kick and a delightfully clinging consistency). The simplicity of this dish, and the tactile business of prising the meat from the shells and rubbing mayonnaise of the chin was a joy.

Then came something utterly fabulous: a whole Cote de Boeuf (essentially a very, very substantial middle-cut of t-bone) for two to share. It came impeccably medium-rare and seasoned, sliced thickly and laid on slices of sourdough toast to soak up any of the precious juices that tried to escape. No wonder this is the speciality of the house; and isn¹t nice to find a restaurant that actually has a speciality?

Like the prawns, this was some of the best beef I¹ve had in a long time, packed with flavour, crusty outside and perfectly moist and rare within. And, for me at any rate, this is a wonderful way to eat steak: in slices, rather than in the usual slab. The very presentation enhances the appetite.

Chunky chips, perfectly crisp, accompanied, and a very simple green salad flecked with tiny cubes of tomato, all in a lovely, classic, balanced vinaigrette. By this stage, had I been a cat, I would have been purring. As it was, I came close to doing so.

Dessert, for someone with my usual appetite, would have been a bridge too far until it was pointed out that Olivier had already prepared a tarte tatin for two. Tender, caramelised apple on a base of buttery, delicate puff pastry, served with vanilla ice cream. It doesn¹t get better than that.

This is the kind of lunch of which lasting memories are made. It may have been a grey Dublin day outside, but within La Maison there was a little cocoon of happiness and we were smack in the middle of it.

Needless to say, the coffee was perfect as was the glass of golden, honeyed Monbazillac with which we finished.

I think Olivier shares my love of simple food. Simple, but brilliant, and certainly not easy.

Who wants all the bells and whistles when you can have superb raw materials treated with the kind of delicacy and respect that allow them to sing their own song?

Je salue