It’s a dreary and drizzly Thursday night, ties are loosened and that weekend eve thirst abounds. The clamber on Dawson street smacks of a Saturday night as we huddle in the door of what must be one of the most impressive revamps the city has yet seen.
There’s a lot you can say about Café en Seine – there’s no doubt the cool €4 million investment has made it extremely easy on the eye. The decor is breathtaking – Gatsby-esque and gold-gilded, you can fool yourself into thinking you are strolling in Parisian streets for a moment or tuck away in a cosy alcove to sip on a vin sur le Seine.
However, tonight’s thirst is geared towards delights more complex than shaken or stirred and we’re keen to see if the revamp’s success has extended to the kitchen. If we’ve learned anything from the spate of glamorous venues opening in Dublin of late, it is that looks will only get you so far and what shows up on the plate is far more important than what hangs on the walls.
“Tout est possible” apparently, and this is evidenced before we get anywhere near a menu, as the Mercantile group has drafted in Pichet’s Stephen Gibson as head chef for this sister property’s new lease of life. Before this, I’d have bid you bon chance at the suggestion of dinner in Cafe en Seine, but as a long time fan of Gibson’s near perfect cooking at Pichet, this quickly became a far more enthusiastic bien sur.
Settling in to a tight but stylishly marble-topped corner table, we quickly summoned a bottle of Torre Raone Pecorino for our Thursday toast amidst a chorus of clinking glasses. Mid-priced at €38, this citrus-driven and generally agreeable drop would work well with the procession of dishes we settled on from a menu which seemed to cover all bases.
An indulgent snack to tide us over turned out to be quite a memorable mouthful. Spinach and Artichoke Dip laced with cheese and cream and scooped up with audibly crisp tortilla chips, fried in house, had us off to a damn fine start. This was a blatant excuse to have a sneaky cheese fondue before we had technically started our meal – but I’d happily do it again and I’m not even sorry.
The love affair continued with my Gambas a la Plancha, subtly sweet, smokily charred and almost buttery within, these plump beauties were well worth getting a little messy for, and the garlic breath afterwards.
Our second starter – the ubiquitous Roast Beetroot salad – was a crowd-pleaser, in this case dotted with dollops of silky and tart Fivemiletown goats cheese. A pop of pickled blackberry burst onto the plate and made for a pleasingly tart vinaigrette, finished with a dusting of pistachio. I’d happily eat this again for lunch, although I fear we missed a trick swerving the tempting sounding Tuna Sashimi.
It is difficult to get excited about Rotisserie Chicken, but this was one classy bird – leg, thigh and breast all beautifully cooked and as succulent as could be. Most situations are improved with the addition of a crisp and buttery hash brown, and a Jerusalem artichoke purée added earthiness and complexity to a simple dish. It may have been just a bit beige on the eye, but there were flashes of Pichet perfection in the execution for sure.
The char of my gambas was mirrored on my cracking crisp skinned Sea Bass sitting happily in a rich and flavourful escabche. With a pop of fennel seed, jammy caramelised onion and a sweet scattering of mussels, this was thoughtful cooking, balanced in every bite and a seriously generous portion with three fine fillets.
Sides of chargrilled broccoli with anchovy mustard dressing and a house salad, not dissimilar to our beetroot starter in size and deliciousness, were both good examples of how you can balance out a pre-starter of pure molten cheese happily.
A final flourish of a suitably gooey and warm Chocolate Brownie topped with properly salt-spiked caramel ice cream and toasted pecans was well worth lingering over. There are few chocoholics who could resist something so simple but satisfying.
I’m not saying it’s the same thing as being whisked to Paris for a night, but dinner in this Dawson Street staple is now easily a date night winner, although next time I reckon a heated duel over the Cote de Boeuf will be our first port of call.
Café en Seine has been manicured to perfection, but I’m pleased to report it has some impressive new tricks inside and outside of the kitchen and this offering is sure to only get better under Gibson’s stewardship. Whether it is a dinner á deux or a glam girls night, Café en Seine is en vogue, a place to be seen and well fed.
Our bill, for that oh so necessary artichoke dip, two starters, two mains with sides, a dessert, sparkling water and a bottle of wine came to €130.
Café en Seine,
40 Dawson Street,
T: (01) 677 4567
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY