Thursday, 19 April 2012

Views and Reviews: Bon Appétit

Lunch at Bon Appétit

I wrote recently about a little culinary victory for which I won a prize of lunch for two at Oliver Dunne's Bon Appétit in Malahide, just outside of Dublin.  To say that I was excited about trying out this one Michelin star venue, about which I had heard only good things, is probably the most understated of understatements.

I wanted to love it. I wanted to be raving about it. I wanted to be boring anyone who got within 3 feet of me to death about it.  I did not expect to find myself googling things like 'What do Michelin stars mean?' while struggling to write a fair and balanced review of it.  

My less-than-extensive googling has since enlightened me to the fact that Michelin stars are awarded based on "what's on the plate and only what's on the plate".  I think I agree with the Michelin guide in this respect to a point.  The quality of the food on the plate is crucial of course, but is by no means the only factor influencing your dining experience.  Service, value, decor and atmosphere all have a role to play and it was a careful balance of all of these that we were expecting as we made the trip from southside to Malahide last Saturday. 

My prize allowed us to order from the set lunch menu which offers 3 courses for a good value €29.95, with 3 choices for each course.  Once we had ordered we were offered bread and we both chose a brown bread with sunflower seeds and were impressed at how light it was while having an incredibly crispy crust.

I had instantly loved the sound of the salmon dish for starter and it was as light, fresh and flavoursome as I'd expected. The presentation was impressive as the radish and cucumber had both been sliced to the point of being transparent and the scattering of herbs added little punches of flavour.

Cured Organic Salmon, Avocado Puree, Black Radish and Cucumber
He went for the five spiced Ham Hock with pickled cabbage and watercress puree. I hope my description does this dish justice:  The meat had been coated in breadcrumbs and fried until crisp and, due to the five spice, these tasted like the moistest, most delicious chinese spare ribs you have ever eaten.

It was at the same time we received our starters that we encountered the first hiccup with our meal.  As we were eating for free we had decided we would treat ourselves with nice wine.  The wine list carries a good selection of wines by the glass so we asked the waiter if we could have glasses of wine to match the dishes we had chosen.  We expected to be told the name of the wine, possibly why it went with our food.  What we got was a different waiter who put two glasses of wine down with the explanation "White wine".  Hmmm, yes, that part I had managed to work out...  When he returned with more bread for us I enquired about what type of wine it was and he promptly named it. Why he hadn't volunteered this information in the first place was baffling.

On to mains and I was very tempted to try the fish dish as it was similar to the one we cooked when I won the prize but I decided to go for a dish I wasn't familiar with and opted for the pork.  The meat was succulent and went well with the leeks but the star of the show was the potato fondant, probably because it was about 50% butter.  I need to learn how to make these.

Organic Pork, Creamed Leeks, Potato Fondant, Garlic Jus
The boyfriend opted for the Braised Beef Bourguignon, Creamed Pommes Puree and a red wine jus.  Unfortunately, the one you see in the picture below is the second one he received as the first had to be sent back to the kitchen when we spotted that the cling film, used to hold the meat together while cooking, had not been removed.  The waiter whisked both our dishes away with an "Oh my god, I am so sorry" and returned with an apology centering around an inexperienced commis who I ended up feeling a bit sorry for as I'm sure he was getting a severe reprimanding.  The chef at the pass is there to stop exactly this kind of mistake and the apology should have been directly from him, no excuses.  When the beef returned, sans garnish aux plastique, it was found to be rich, melt in the mouth and with tiny pearl onions who were boxing in the heavyweight class in terms of the flavour they packed in.  The pommes puree, like the fondant, were another vehicle for butter, and were deliciously light and creamy. 

The wine saga continued with main course as we were presented with "Red wine" which turned out to be a Bordeaux upon further inquiry.  By dessert the waiter had got the measure of us and asked if he could recommend a dessert wine.  The boyfriend requested a port as he was having the cheese and I was given a glass of Monbazillac, a sweet wine from the south west of France that I'm familiar with.  The French usually drink it with paté and foie gras but it went well with my Vanilla Panna Cotta, Berries and Strawberry Consommé.

I loved the presentation of my dessert, the panna cotta having been set in a thin layer on the bottom of the dish, with fresh berries, mint and the strawberry consommé which was like a concentrated strawberry essence.

His cheese plate (€5 supplement to the set menu) was presented cleverly with a pasta tongs-come-cracker stand holding thin, crispy, caraway seed crackers.  I cannot tell you what type of cheeses he got other than blue, goat's and someting brie-like as they were not explained to us.  The blue and the goat's were excellent while the brie was a little under-ripe, the spiced pear chutney that accompanied them was delicious.

Overall, the quality of the food and wine we experienced, plastic wrap incident aside, was excellent and the lunch menu is good value.  However, the service was hurried and lacked attention to detail  at times and small things, like a dirty wine glass, were out of place in a dining room where effort has obviously gone in to your surroundings.  So I was left a little confused as to how I felt about our experience of Bon Appétit.  Had our expectations been out of sync with what was on offer?  Were we examining it all through a star tainted microscope?  It is at this point that I would have to disagree with anyone who is reviewing a restaurant solely based on the food on the plate, and to clarify, the Michelin guide do have another rating to indicate service etc., because when the other aspects of a dining experience do not match the quality of the food on the plate it can leave you feeling strangely unsatisfied. 

Lunch of 3 courses costs €29.95 per person. Six glasses of wine and an espresso came to €53 excluding service.

Bon Appétit, 9 James's Terrace Malahide, Co. Dublin
01 845 0314


  1. sounds a bit disappointing alright, I have never gotten plastic on my food in non-Michelin starred eateries!!

  2. Yeah, it's a fairly fundamental mistake alright!

  3. Its such an interesting point you make. . . eating out is as much about the experience as the "food on the plate". So many factors involved like service, ambiance and value, that no matter how delicious the food is (from your pictures, it looks amazing), it can leave a bitter taste in the mouth. But i always think, fun company and nice wine help can help over come this a bit :)

  4. Hi Claire, I couldn't agree with you more, it's why the best meal can sometimes be a bowl of garlic dip, a monstrous bag of tortilla chips and a good natter with your girlfriends over a bottle of wine!