It’s funny the way you link the things you learn with the environment in which you learn them.
Last night, I was lucky enough to attend the fifth birthday party of Alexis Bar and Grill in Dun Laoghaire. The building it’s housed in on Patrick Street always comes to mind when I make, drink or even think of an Irish coffee, being where I mastered the art of making one*.
Back then, this long-standing dining room was called de Selby’s in honour of Flann O’Brien’s fictional character, and was owned by John and Eleanor McManus, local legends of Dublin southside dining in the 1980s & 1990s.
Today, the current incarnation is named after Alexis Benoît Soyer, a legendary French chef who, having made his name in London in the 1840s, came to Dublin in 1847 to open kitchens to feed famine victims. According to the Alexis website, Soyer’s conviction “was that one could eat very well for modest cost and this philosophy is part of what makes up the Alexis Bar and Grill ethos today”.
Today the restaurant is owned and run by Alan and Patrick O’Reilly. Alan is a chef who has been cooking fine food for longer than I’ve been making Irish coffees. He and his brother Patrick opened Alexis in 2007 and have been picking up awards for great value and critical acclaim for great cooking ever since.
Last night they pulled out all the stops, teaming up with Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen to offer an anniversary menu that proved brilliant value, even at €80 a pop.
Here are some of the things I learnt last night, back in my old stomping ground:
- Lesson 1: Duck hearts are blimming delicious. Tender little globes of rich, robust flesh, these were served with Jerusalem artichokes rendered various ways including shaved paper thin, served with scattered hazelnuts and sorrel, and paired with a ‘natural’ Domaine Richaud Cote du Rhone 2007 from Liberty Wines.
- Lesson 2: Celery has a place on a dessert plate, especially if paired with white chocolate and poached rhubarb, and flavoured with rose and dill.
- Lesson 3: Colin Harmon loves his coffee. Well I knew that already, he being an Irish Barista Champ and all, and heading up 3FE in Dublin’s Middle Abbey Street, which is only the best coffee joint in town. But last night, he was drafted in to serve us up two takes on the one coffee, in the form of an espresso and cappucino both made from naturally pulped beans from the biodynamic Balmaadi estate in India‘s Tamil Nadu state. It was a delicious exercise to compare the two side by side, and the resulting caffeine boost saw many of the 70 diners take the celebrations on into early Tuesday moring.
- Lesson 4: Alan and Patrick O’Reilly know how to host a party, and Mickael Viljanen knows how to cook**. The latter’s new restaurant on Dawson Street, due to open at the end of this month, will be well worth a visit. And the former duo’s eatery on Patrick Street is still alive and kicking, five years on.
I’m guessing that whenever I eat duck hearts for dinner or celery for dessert, or drink an espresso of such sophistication, I’ll think of Alexis’s fifth birthday party. I’m looking forward to the 10 year celebrations already.
*Made properly, an Irish coffee is a thing of beauty: the contrast of cool pale cream and hot black coffee, sweet sugar and fiery whiskey. Heat your glass with boiling water (pop a spoon in first if the glass is delicate). Half-fill with decent fresh coffee and stir in a teaspoon of sugar until dissolved completely. Top with a shot of whiskey, stir well and gently pour lightly whipped cream over the back of the warm spoon onto the swirling surface. Drink while hot. Consider making another.
(Just in case you didn’t know.)
**The menu also included ray wing with brown shrimp, smoked eel sabayon, brown butter, diced and cubed cucumber, and pickled shemji mushrooms paired with Raphael Palacios Loro do Bolo Godello from Spain’s Galicia via Le Caveau. And loin of Sika deer with intense beetroot, truffle, celeriac & brown milk solids, venison shoulder speared with liquorice root and bone marrow wobbling with deliciousness, paired with Claus Preisinger Blaufrankish from Austria’s Burgenland via 64 Wines. And mini meringues of mushroom and foie gras to start, with Bellavista Franciacorta Cuvee Brut. And chocolate pavé with salted caramel and coffee flavours to finish, served with a singing Romaneria 10 Year Old Tawny Port.
(Just in case you had to know.)