With the sun shining in Dublin, outdoor tables for lunch are in shorter supply than €50 notes in Athens right now..
It always amazes me that when the sun comes out in Ireland that we pile into beer gardens and start drinking pints of cider instead of heading to the park or the beach. Every square inch of outdoor drinking space is covered with a sprawling mess of pale white limbs, as people wonder what life would be like if the weather were like this every day in Ireland.
The answer? We'd me more like Europeans. The French, Italians and Spanish have weather like this all summer long, and while they enjoy a drink they prefer to do so with food. As I wandered around the other day, looking for somewhere to bask in the sun, I settled on a little French brasserie called La Maison. It is nestled between the wildly popular Drury and South William Streets, but while people were 10 deep outside Grogan's next door sipping pints I was the only person on this dainty little terrace.
La Maison used to be a bakery that did the most wonderful French pastries and breads, but I'm guessing the economics didn't quite stack up with the high rent in the area, and so it morphed into a bistro. The space is tight but between the two floors and the terrace they've managed to squeeze in a good 50 seats.
The menu could not be more French if it was painted on a French flag. During the boom years, Ireland was dominated by fine French dining but with that came starched linen, snooty waiters and prices to match. In the bust years, however, we've gone back to a simpler (and cheaper) way of eating. We're closer to America in our cuisine than France now - with big portions and a burger culture. French food has kind of fallen to the wayside, so I was delighted at the offerings on La Maison's menu - which emulated classic fine dining.
Unfortunately things didn't get off to a great start when the bread I was served had a plastic label accidentally cooked into it. This could happen to anybody, I guess, but it was messy given the prices being charged in here. Label aside, the bread was great and the sauce verte it was served with was spot on.
Next up were scallops served on the shell. They had been cooked with enough butter and herbs to satisfy a small army, resulting in an incredible flavour. The bread to dip in the cooking juices was absolutely superb, and I'd have been happy with a main course portion of this dish alone.
Just as I was licking my lips, hankering after more scallops, they brought out a lovely little red wine and orange sorbet. It was a strange combination but it had the desired effect of cleaning the pallet and setting me up for my main course.
For mains I ordered the black sole on the bone which was a whopping €33 - quite a lot for a main course in Dublin these days. The fish was as well cooked as any I've ever had in Dublin - big, juicy and fresh. It takes skill to find fish this good and then to cook it to perfection. The portion was so large that I could barely finish it, and it would comfortably have fed two. The spinach, new potatoes and lemon were the perfect way to serve it too - no bullshit here, just top quality Irish ingredients.
Now the sun may have helped, but I couldn't help but feel like I was sitting in the South of France eating this delicious meal - it was a truly top experience.
French food has been kind of overlooked in Ireland in the past few years, but its time will come back around. The French are culinary masters - and no fads like kale salads or spicy chicken wings can get in the way of that. La Maison serve perfect French food with no fanfare, focusing solely on ingredients and top service - and that's why I'll be back. It's not cheap but it's worth every penny!