46-47 Highfield Road
Chef: Ian Ussher
Bijou is part of the happy phenomenon of local suburban restaurants, and as such has probably weathered recent economic tribulations better than most. The interior feels like a cosy Victorian pub converted to a restaurant, though it suffers the same difficulties of many modern eateries: hard surfaces equals noisy spaces.
I was with my two nieces and their two friends and – as the only grown-up in our lunch party – I decided to skip the wine list. A shame as Bijou also offers interesting cocktails, but I felt I needed to set a good example.
I am a long way from being 13, but I do know that my appetite has probably doubled since then, as my waistline certainly has, so we skipped starters and had two courses instead. The starter list did read well, with seafood chowder for €6.50 and a chicken and foie gras terrine with hazelnut crumb, apricot chutney and pickled shimeji mushrooms for €9.75.
I ordered the sauteed wild mushroom and herb gnocchi with cep cream and Parmesan, which was part of the lunch deal of two courses for €22, or three for €27. I have been ordering a lot of vegetarian dishes recently, and I love cooking vegetarian food at home, but I have come to realise that pasta is the default vegetarian dish for nearly every restaurant. Having said that, my gnocchi was beautifully presented and filled with thoughtful contrasts of texture and flavour. It was a delight of a dish.
The cottage pie had some rather glamorous mash on top contrasting with a deep, earthy flavoured filling and good value too at €12.75. It got the thumbs-up from myself and the junior critics. My youngest niece ordered the open prawn and smoked salmon sandwich on home-made Guinness bread with Marie Rose sauce (€12.50).
This classic requires quality shellfish. In this case the prawns were really shrimp and, as we both love seafood, we agreed it did not taste like some of the fantastic fresh shellfish we’ve had in Kerry. Disappointing.
I also ordered a side of Brussel sprouts (€3.95), and this is where more committed service from staff would have helped. I’d ordered it with my gnocchi, which also had Brussel sprouts, so it was something of a sprout overdose for me. I can’t help feeling that the busy staff would have reduced their footfall and increased their efficiency with proper working systems and a full knowledge of the menu.
We also ordered grilled Mexican chicken salad with baby gem lettuce, piquillo peppers, guacamole and coriander (€13.95). This was a generously-sized dish and not too spicy, but I am not a fan of the ubiquitous chicken breast. When you compare the shallow chicken flavour here with the chicken salad in Hatch & Sons on St Stephen’s Green you’ll know what I mean.
For dessert I ordered the humble fruit crumble (€6.95), as I am increasingly of the belief that this dish is one of the indicators of a good brasserie. Like soup, it is a dish relegated to junior kitchen staff and, unless they treat it like an entry for Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, it can be sadly lacking.
This version was not an award winner – the fruit was bitter, the proportion of crumble to fruit was minuscule and the accompanying creme anglaise was in a tiny jug too small to access with the giant spoon, and was too thick to pour.
We also ordered the selection of seasonal ice cream (€6.95), which included a tasty cinnamon one, a nice touch. Three chocolate fondants were ordered, too (€6.95 each), and they got the thumbs-up from me, but not everyone liked the very high cocoa content. Nonetheless, we agreed that there was a difference between something being a good rendition (which I though it was) and simply not liking something.
Bijou gets lots of things right, and judging by the crowds filling the small space, it has a loyal local following. The commitment to authentic cooking needs to be followed through in everything, as the good stuff only highlights the less than ideal items. Nonetheless, I’d return – but I’d choose more carefully next time.
Breaking the bank
Starter: pan-fried gambas on toast with garlic butter and tomato concise, €12.50
Main course: Hereford dry-aged ribeye steak with roasted tomatoes, bearnaise, watercress and fries, €26.50
Afters: Irish artisan cheese with home-made crackers and quince jelly, €11.50
Wine: Chateau Batailly, Pauillac Grand Cru Classe, 2003, €165
Total for two: €266
Watching the pennies
Starter: cream of celeriac soup with homemade brown bread, €5.95
Main course: pumpkin risotto with crisp sage and toasted pumpkin seeds, €16.95
Dessert: homemade bread and butter pudding with cinnamon ice cream and brandy anglaise, Euro 6.95
Wine: Les Fumees Blanches, Lurton, France, €25
Total for two: €84.70