15 Trinity Street, Dublin 2
Chef: Stephen Gibson
Many moons ago, I found myself in the company of an estate agent who was reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of her staff. “I couldn’t tell you if any of them are actually any good at selling,” she said. “They don’t have to be; the stuff is selling itself at the minute. I’ll only know if any of them are any good when the market slows down.”
This is true of many professions, of course; often we don’t realise how good or bad we are at something until the pressure is on. And the pressure was certainly on our server the night we visited Pichet.
A table of three had arrived and taken an instant dislike to everything: the lighting, the menu (from what I could gather, they were irked that a dish they’d had when they last visited a couple of years ago wasn’t still on), the music, the table itself.
They were, in short, the customers from hell. But luckily for them, they were being looked after by the waiter from heaven, a supremely patient soul whose smile never wavered as he dealt with their protestations. He’d also been looking after us, and that smile only wavered once, over dessert – but more of that anon.
Pichet has been a mainstay of the Dublin dining scene for years, but earlier this year was given a complete overhaul by its owners, the Mercantile Group and chef Stephen Gibson. The main dining room was booked up by the time we made our reservation, so we were allotted a table in the bar area. It was a small table – a very small table, actually – so a certain amount of juggling of glasses, side plates and cutlery was required, but we made the best of it.
The à la carte dinner menu offers six starters and seven main courses, but there were also some tempting-sounding specials on, among them a starter of steak tartare with horseradish, anchovy crackers, confit egg yolk and burnt leek powder (€12.50).
I loved everything about this dish: the perfectly seasoned beef topped with shallot rings, the rich egg, the divine anchovy crackers. Our other starter, mussels with pancetta, leeks, garlic and parsley (€12) was fine, but the serving size seemed a little on the small size for that price.
Our first main course was another special, roast halibut with brown shrimp, cauliflower purée, girolles, dill and a roast chicken jus (€29). It was another faultless plate, with the fish cooked beautifully, the chicken jus adding masses of flavour, and the purée silky smooth.
Shoulder and rump of lamb with red pepper ketchup, hummus, spiced nuts, sumac yogurt and roasted cauliflower (€29) was just as good. This is the kind of comforting, supremely flavourful dish that would bring you back to a restaurant again and again, assuming you could afford the price.
A pre-dessert of glazed figs with honey gel and a salted caramel ice cream was lovely, but the lemon chiboust with raspberry, toasted meringue and sable biscuit (€8) was disappointing. The chiboust itself (it’s a pastry cream lightened with Italian meringue) didn’t have nearly enough lemon zinginess, and the biscuits were dry as a bone.
We had ordered the sheep’s yogurt panna cotta with apple sorbet, sorrel and dill (€7) for our other dessert. A hazelnut parfait arrived instead, and while it was perfectly nice, a panna cotta it was not. Our waiter went off to enquire with the kitchen, then returned looking a bit sheepish to tell us that “the chef said the parfait is nicer than the panna cotta anyway”. It’s one way of dealing with having sent the wrong dish, I suppose.
It was a disappointing end to what could have been a really great meal. There were moments of greatness here – the tartare, halibut and lamb were three of the best things I’d eaten all year – and the service was really superb. But when you’re charging these prices, mistakes like that just aren’t good enough.
Dinner for two, including a bottle of sparkling water, one cocktail and two glasses of wine, came to €135.
Breaking the bank
Starter: tuna with avocado, soya and ginger dressing, cucumber and radish, €12
Main course: halibut with pea risotto and a cucumber and brown shrimp dressing, €30
Dessert: chocolate silk cake with hazelnut, passionfruit and coconut, €8.50
Wine: Meursault, Tête de Cuvée, François d’Allaines, Burgundy 2013, €81
Dinner for two:€182
Watching the pennies
Starter: pea soup with Iberico ham croquette, ricotta and lemon, €7.50
Main course: roast potato gnocchi with ratatouille, courgette, green olives and basil, €19
Dessert: strawberries with sourdough ice cream and mint granita, €7
Wine: Porter Mill Station, Chenin Blanc, South Africa 2014, €29
Dinner for two: €96
Tomás Clancy rates the wine list
This lean list offers 27 wines by the glass and, of course, 27 wines by the pichet, the 500ml informal wine decanter after which the restaurant is named. The list is meticulously curated with a dominant European selection including white stalwarts Sancerre, Chablis, Pouilly-Fuissé and Meursault, which are mirrored on the red side by Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Pomérols and St-Émilion.
When it does stray beyond Europe, it is to the witty Goose Beret Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand 2015 at €40 or the luscious Napa Cellars, Zinfandel 2014 at €46. Value abounds here and while you can spend €345 on a bottle of excellent Château Cos d’Estournel, AC St Éstephe 2006, prices start at €7.25 a glass, €29 a bottle and €19.95 a pichet.
Our white wine value for the quality pick is the lime-tinged joy of Domaine des Lauriers, Picpoul de Pinet 2015 at €36, while the red pick is the cool Finca Las Cabras, Crianza DOCa Rioja 2012 at €42.