My idea of happiness frequently involves a shining sun above me and flowing water underneath my feet. From windsurfing in ever-blue Caribbean beaches to humbly witnessing the glacial glory of the Niagara Falls, and most recently, leisurely cruising Dublin’s cheerful Grand Canal on board La Peniche, the city’s finest floating restaurant, there is an undeniable pattern.
As Dublin is not precisely the sunshine capital of the world, every time a blue sky is promised I begin a quest to find a place worthy of enjoying it, and on a warm and clear day of Spring, no choice would have been more appropriate than La Peniche -French for the barge- as it not only offers a privileged location, but nature’s raw gifts are enhanced by the sophisticated pleasures of enthusiastic service, appetising dishes and fine wines. Opened in 2006, it was custom built to fit the canal and it offers a 6:00 pm and a 9:00 pm cruise as well as a lunch time service.
We arrived for lunch and it immediately felt like going on a flash holiday. Two Kir Royals sparkled as lively as the canal’s quiet stream and set the tone for the afternoon. Blankets were handed just in case, but fortunately on this day they were not required. La Paniche’s menu felt like the type you’d find at a good bistro: concise but smartly chosen to cater to a variety of palates, and while they face the added challenge of very limited kitchen space, you wouldn’t notice it thanks to their skilled crew and a experienced chef that has captained the cooking team for a decade.
After La Peniche leaves port to sail through the canal, guests are invited to go downstairs to the lower deck, where food will be served. Warm, with smooth wooden interiors and a classic decor, this part of the ship offers an elegant shelter from the elements and a comfortable atmosphere where diners can relax rain or shine, all year round.
Choosing from a two course lunch menu, we decided to share a starter and a dessert. Thanks to a recommendation by the manager, Shiful, we began with La Peniche Royal Tartar of Smoked & Fresh Salmon. No wonder it’s one of their most popular dishes as it was neatly presented and flawlessly seasoned.
The main attraction arrived: Crispy Duck Leg Confit, served with sweet chilli glazed pineapple, cabbage mash and thyme jus, while my date decided to try the Fillet of Seabass, with green beans, potatoes, butter spinach and lemon butter sauce. Both were cooked to tender perfection with the duck’s delightful contrast between its meat and the juicy fruit and the fish’s firm freshness and delicate flavours confirming that we’ve made the right choice.
Glasses of crisp Domaine de Mont d’Hortes Sauvignon Blanc and blushed Domaine Michaud Touraine Rosé in hand, we climbed back up in between courses to enjoy the unique views of the Grand Canal.
I won’t say it didn’t feel good to notice the eyes of people walking nearby and stopping to acknowledge the coolness of the scene. Looking at the pictures of events hosted on board, I felt the same way: from intimate weddings to hen parties that must have been THE night out, the gallery screamed “fun”. A quick enquiry confirmed that they regularly host private events of up to 60 people.
Only a rich and creamy Belgian Dark Chocolate Mousse was able to get us back to our table. Its modest presentation didn’t prepare me for its intense taste and gorgeous texture, a pleasant surprise and the ideal way to end what turned out to be more than just a meal, it was a unique experience where both the meticulously planned and the fortuitous converged to create a moment that I will hold dear.
After approximately two and a half hours we were back. There was no rush to get to land, and some guests stayed for one more drink while others slowly made their way back to reality.
La Peniche proved to be a memorable place not just because of the quality of their dishes but thanks to the distinctiveness of their concept: where else can you sail through Dublin’s picturesque Grand Canal while enjoying a wonderful meal and sipping on a gleaming glass of wine under the sunshine?
The bill for a two course lunch for two people with two Kir Royals and two glasses of wine was €57.95.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.