In my apparent quest to antagonise the chronically uptight brand managers of Dublin City’s various postcodes, I’ve been forced to cast a wider net. So where better to stretch the analogy than the briny bastions of the southern coastal elite. Monkstown, an apparently postcodeless place, will be the opening destination for these gustatory postcards from the edge. I’m a metropolitan type, and as such I tend not to eat in the suburbs unless there are are candles to be blown out or in the aftermath of a life extinguished. I feel moderately resentful to be dispatched to cover a place that requires a train ride. That resentment is tempered however when I take a look online at the menu for Bresson, Temple Garner’s unabashedly gallic new out-of-Town spot. I never really developed a taste for Town Bar & Grill, where he made his mark, but that probably had more to do with the clientele than the food. San Lorenzo’s is fine, but this place reads like an altogether more promising prospect.
The concept here has been burnished to a (distressed) mirror finish by restaurateur Keith McNally (Balthazar, Pastis, Cherche Midi etc.) in New York City. These are generic French, or more often specifically Parisian, grand brasseries constructed from romantic recollection where the food often surpasses that of the boîtes that begat them. Prices here are roughly in line with McNally’s other joints so I decide to use them as a yardstick with which to beat or measure Bresson against.
Although the restaurant describes itself as ‘fine dining’ there is, mercifully, no tasting menu being touted. Fine dining needs to shake off the shackles of these piecemeals, cloned from the DNA of high Japanese cuisine. I once enjoyed a monumental Keiseki service in the old Imperial capital of Kyoto that stretched well beyond fifteen courses and occasionally approached summits of almost unimaginable refinement. My appreciation for multi-course tastings has been diminishing from that moment.
You know where you’re at as soon as you step off the Dort. There’s a car dealership on the corner crowded with German convertibles. The theme continues into the restaurant. We are the youngest people in the room who are not being paid to be there and I imagine that these prosperous looking types can see the negative equity in our eyes. The former Seapoint room has been done over, by the now ubiquitous O’Donnell O’Neill, to a degree of inoffensive tastefulness. Elegant ladder-back chairs, vintage posters, pristine linens – it is a rather lovely place to bring one’s current wife or indeed mistress, if you are an actual Frenchman.
A dish of sauteéd duck livers with puy lentils, friseé and lardons couldn’t be more Gascon if it were force fed to patrons. It is exemplary, a textbook rendering of the dish although I could do without the accompanying date chutney. Bouillabaisse is even better, if less formally composed. The ochre liquor is redolent of a profound stock and its turbid depths give up good prawns, palourdes, mussels and whitefish (possibly hake in place of rascasse) that has been added just late enough in the process to retain its integrity. Crab-mayo toast stands in admirably for the more traditional rouille crouton. It’s one of the best takes on the Marseillaise classic I’ve had in a long time, anywhere.
The assured seafood cookery continues into a main of pan-seared halibut (replacing the wild bass from the online menu) with calamari, preserved lemon and a beurre blanc. A generous tranche of the fish is beautifully cooked, the squid memorably tender. The plate comes together effortlessly. The coup de gras comes in the form of an obscenely good bone-in striploin of veal (Côte de Veau). It is an inch-thick chop of admirably fatted calf, served perfectly medium rare as requested and plated with roast Jerusalem artichokes and chanterelles. At €42 it’s the most expensive dish on the menu but it could probably feed two with judiciously chosen sides. It is a struggle to consume a uniformly excellent tarte tatin at the finish.
The wine list is not quite as francophone as I had anticipated, but there are bottles that you want to drink, at prices that you don’t mind paying. Service starts off casual and becomes progressively chummier. By the time we call for the bill I’m preparing myself for high-fives. This is a kitchen focused on delivering flavour and feeding you well; something of a novelty these days. I’d be quite happy to have any of these dishes set before me in any of Mr McNally’s joints. Also novel is a menu that doesn’t read as ingredient haiku. Neither pastiche nor homage, Bresson trawls through the French repertoire with just the right degree of respect. Too good to be regarded as merely a neighbourhood spot, and perhaps too good for Monkstown: this place deserves a postcode.
Words: Conor Stevens
Photo: Killian Broderick
Bresson 41a, The Crescent, Monkstown, Co Dublin 01 284 4286