“How about Pichet?” I mused as we pondered aloud relatively last minute Friday night dinner plans recently, knowing full well any chance of nabbing a table at one of Dublin’s new Bib Gourmand spots was slim. The Bib, you see, ticks all the boxes for me when it comes to weekend dining – small, charming eateries, budget friendly and blow-out menu options and the guarantee that your share of the bill will have been well worth it on the flavour front.
While the buzzy Trinity Street bistro has undergone a makeover and of management in recent years, the kitchen remains under the cool and confident control of Chef and part-owner Stephen Gibson. Having spent his early career manning Michelin-starred stoves in venues like Paris’ iconic Fauchon, Gibson served as Head Chef in our own L’Ecrivain for five years before opening Pichet in 2009.
Quickly securing Bib recognition in 2010, this French inspired eatery is one you could easily overlook with the spate of newcomers to the Bib club this year and last. However, Pichet is as safe a bet on a Tuesday as a Saturday – packed to the seams most evenings and with the pedigree behind it, it isn’t hard to see why.
Stepping in to a full front bar with a stylish crowd sipping on hand-crafted cocktails and soaking up the atmosphere, it is tough to be blue, and the stylish terracotta leather bucket seats, theatrical open kitchen and selection of tempting bistro dishes etched across a specials blackboard.
We are seated by Bobby, our warm and well-versed waiter who came armed with insightful recommendations having asked about our dish preferences and wine choices. The key to Pichet’s enduring appeal may be its ability to lend itself to whatever kind of night you’re after, whether it’s a Cote de Bouef (John Stone and a frequent special at Pichet) and a bottle of Malbec, some Dooncastle oysters and a couple of plates to share or three courses from an extremely tempting a la carte offering.
“I want it to beat me over the head with flavour”, my straight-talking solicitor companion clarifies as our bespectacled and charming Cockney Sommelier suggests Tarima, Monestrall (€33). From balmy Alicante, one of Spain’s underrated wine regions, he reckons it will be bold enough for my meaty main and generously tannic and powerful enough to keep the lawyer at bay – it ticks both boxes upon tasting.
Beetroot and goats cheese could be considered basic, but narrowing down my starter choice to roast Beetroot, Five Mile Town Goats Cheese, Jerusalem Artichoke, Truffle and Pickled Walnut, the combination proved to be anything but. Just enough airy, whipped goats cheese piled on fork tender roasted rainbow beets, mingled with more than a subtle hint of earthy truffle and artichoke made for mouthfuls par excellence. It is at this point that I start to ponder if Pichet would consider daily lunch deliveries to the office – this dish was too good not to repeat.
Across the table, there is a debate about the Scallop with Salt Cod Croquette dish’s curried hues – I love it, M is less convinced – but with juicy golden raisin sweetness, a hint of heady spice seems to work in harmony with the delicate and perfectly caramelised scallops and I pillage more than one bite, just to be sure.
Stephen’s confident cooking is the very definition of consistent, with each ostensibly simple dish more beguiling than the last.
If you have ever experienced the bane of a bland fish dish, the seriously savoury Halibut with Root Vegetables and Carrot Purée would earn your pardon. Pops of herbaceous parsley along with seductively smoked bacon-spiked lentils complimented the perfectly cooked fillet beautifully, with the sweetness of silky carrot purée adding the final piece to the umami puzzle.
As tempting as the above was, judgment on dish of the night fell in my favour – Wicklow Venison, Red Cabbage, Salsify and Blackberry was enthralling on the plate and borderline symphonic on the palate. Taking all the highlights of the season and marrying them together perfectly, tart blackberry mingled with bitter and almost smokey cacao nib proved to be the ideal foil to the richness of quiveringly rare loin. Add in crispy crusted salsify and the creaminess of tender salt-baked celeriac and you have a winter dish without fault, leading to some fork sparring for the last bite.
Despite a show-stealing main course, punchy and well considered side dishes of Chargrilled Broccoli and Smoked Almonds and Roast Carrots with Greek Yoghurt and Puffed Wild Rice managed to hold their own and far surpassed the usual run of the mill sides.
As is always the case, dessert was an unnecessary but non-negotiable indulgence and despite tempting Franco favourites such as Ile Flottant and Lemon Chiboust our sights were firmly set on a Pichet classic – Snickers Peanut Butter Parfait. Lashings of crisp honeycomb, intense chocolate sorbet and a bar of mouth-coating parfait that cuts like butter and tastes like heaven mean this is a dessert even those blessed to be born without a sweet tooth will crave and a visit to Pichet will always end on a sweet note when it is on the specials board.
Each course we enjoyed at Pichet was the very essence of the Bib – displaying impressive technique and utilising local and seasonal ingredients to create intriguing dishes with zero fuss and fair pricing. You won’t get the kind of atmosphere Pichet enjoys in a starred venue, but you have a chef who has been comfortable at the helm of such a kitchen and brings this innate understanding of flavour combinations to every dish on his menu – the best of both worlds. Our bill, for starters, mains, two sides and a shared dessert came to €129.
People ask my favourite restaurant on a daily basis and it is so easy to jump to the new kid on the block, the flavour of the month, the flash in the pan recent openings. Pichet is none of these things, but is now embedded on my list without question. A reassuringly safe bet with food which is far from routine, Pichet is a Dublin institution and rightfully so.
14-15 Trinity Street
T: 353 1 677 1060
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show or RTE Today. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me on my pursuit of deliciousness.