With the chill in the air getting more aggressive by the day as we move into October, I know I’m not alone in craving some comforting food to warm my bones. Shivering and starving, my sister and I stepped off Talbot Street into an old saloon-style space with a relaxed lounge feel, walls adorned with French posters and jazz cooing in the background. Le Bon Crubeen would be our port of call for a Thursday evening dinner catch up to get out of the cold.
A cosy, cushioned corner table awaited us having been greeted by the lovely manager Karen, who I notice going from table to table chatting with regulars who clearly come in often, this place is a local favourite in the most unlikely of places. The topic tonight seems to be Le Bon Crubeen’s revamped menu, which the lady at our neighbouring table, well into her second course, sounds very impressed with.
A stone’s throw from the Abbey Theatre, Le Bon Crubeen is one of the first pre-theatre names that springs to the minds of many and its Early Evening 3 course menu for €22.95 makes it one of the best deals in the city. Aisling and I were keen to make our meal the main act of the evening so arriving a little later we opted to go a la carte, although a three course set evening menu for just €26 offered something for everyone. We peruse the menu, which I am surprised is not as French as the name might suggest, but tempting nonetheless, replete with dish after dish of delicious sounding classics.
Aisling decided on a tempting Crab and Grapefruit Salad, one of my favourite flavour combinations. Super fresh flaked lump crab was dispersed through tender baby leaves, dressed lightly enough with peppery olive oil to allow the tart pink grapefruit segments to shine. I noticed many of our fellow diners ordering this as a main course, it is clearly a popular choice despite being a new addition to the menu. And I can see why, this was a perfectly refreshing and light start to a meal.
I on the the other hand went the whole hog – literally – by choosing the restaurant’s namesake and signature dish – Crispy Crubeens. Don’t let the image of pig’s trotters put you off, these are served cake style for the faint hearted. Pulled pork hock is cooked for 6 hours to melting tenderness and encased in panko crumbs, served piping hot perched on a velvety sweet apple purée. Pickled carrot ribbons added more contrasting acidity to cut through the richness of these little fried fancies which I was more enamoured with than I ever expected to be. The only problem I could find was the portion of salty and sweet goodness was too generous and I cursed the fact that I couldn’t finish a third cake.
Moving on to mains, an extensive offering had been difficult to narrow down, with temptations from Duck Leg Confit with Bacon and Lentil Broth to Stone Bass with Beetroot Beurre Blanc keeping us deliberating longer than usual. Aisling, the peskiest of pescetarians, opted for another light and lively sounding dish – Sea Trout with Crispy Samphire and Tomato Garlic Salsa.
Trout is always a delicious alternative to salmon, and an ample fillet was well cooked and crisp skinned, its rich oiliness well matched with a garlic studded diced salsa with a hint of lemon. Crispy salted samphire and a plump quenelle of smooth sweet potato mash finished a simple yet elegant fish dish with each element on point. Admittedly, the portions meant we hardly needed side dishes, but they were an indulgence enjoyed – crispy kale and sweet potato fries, two of my favourites, were worth straining our waistbands for.
After my trip down memory lane to Sunday lunch combo love of pork and apple I had decided to continue my cruise to comfort-ville with Rump of Lamb. The nod to the French theme in this homely Irish dish is in the sous vide cooking of the lamb, ensuring every portion is plump, tender and blushing pink. Finished in the pan to render the coating of my beloved lamb fat, this was delicately treated and perfectly cooked.
I’m not a big potato person, but the menu had stated Boulangére and instead I was given diced charlottes cooked in stock. That was my only gripe, and if I’m honest the well seasoned sauteed savoy cabbage and meaty rich jus more than made up for it. This was solid cooking indeed. What they aim for, they execute.
By the time desserts arrive the Talbot Street stalwart is packed with both locals and tourists, it’s enduring popularity can’t be denied. We are both stuffed at this stage but I always like to end on a sweet note and we weren’t keen on moving any time soon. The most authentically French part of our meal was likely the beautiful Apple Tarte Tatin – a petite disk of crisp puff pastry beneath buttery caramelised apple was served with a fabulous caramel ice cream – classic, simple and infinitely enjoyable.
Aisling had sworn she didn’t want a dessert yet somehow her plate was clean and hands flew across the table to sample the homemade biscuits accompanying my Basil Mousse with Strawberries. This is a combination that is easy to mess up, with an overstated basil flavour making for an unpleasant eating in so many attempts at it – but not this one. The mousse was espuma-light and delicately basil scented, playing beautifully with sweet macerated strawberries. Black pepper added a kick to the melting home-baked shortbread, still warm from the oven, making the perfect vessel for scooping. Somehow, we polished both desserts, which speaks for itself.
While I love the dilemma of wanting more than one dish, I can’t be the only one who is a little wary of a long-winded menu. I worry that a kitchen that is trying to do too much will fall between two stools and serve up an array of underwhelming results. In Le Bon Crubeen, they are not trying to reinvent the wheel, and perhaps that is the secret to success here, the menu is broad and varied but filled with simple classics done well and we enjoyed every dish we sampled. Sometimes the most humble looking of dishes are exactly what the soul craves.
Le Bon Crubeen is as popular as it is because it offers something many restaurants nowadays lack – consistency. They keep their customers itching to return with solid, well executed cooking of comforting, more-ish food we all enjoy and some of the warmest service you are likely to find in the city. I have little doubt that they will continue to do so for many years to come. And for the record, I still regret not finishing the last crispy crubeen.
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!