Bijou Bistro sits at the very heart of Rathgar with stately elegance. Until recently I would have called it the Grande Dame of Rathgar with its elegant Art Deco interior and steadily solid food. It was always a good spot for a weekend brunch or Sunday lunch and its popularity with Southside Dubliners was always evident in the full tables. However, it's all too easy to rest on ones laurels and assume that a successful formula will continue to attract customers with no great effort on the part of the restauranteur. I had wondered how Bijou would fare, as its crowd-pleasing menu seemed somewhat staid when reflected in the light of a Dublin dining scene that grows ever more steadily excellent. These questions have been answered with the hiring of Ian Ussher, a former Euro-Toques Young Chef of the Year, as executive chef at Bijou Bistro.
We visited on a Friday evening once I had finished a conference call with the US, looking for a late dinner. Given the hour, we were very pleasantly surprised when Chef Ussher offered to cook some special dishes for us. I find it generally advisable to never be rude to knife-bearing chefs, so we sat back in the darkly comfortable dining room and relaxed. (Please note that the aforementioned darkness made photography difficult).
First up was a singe large meaty yet light raviolo served atop a portion of succulent beef, followed by a delicate sublime composition of sweet langoustine and oozing quail's egg. Pan-fried scallops were oh-so-beautifully carmelised with a classic cauliflower puree. Earlier that very day, I had seen Ian tweet (@IUssher) a picture of an experimental dish of duck Wellington and I was delighted when a portion arrived at the table alongside some duck confit and a bright scattering of jewel-like pomegranate seeds. Cod flavoured with gently warming Indian spices came with gnocchi and peas and flavoursome rich juices.
At this stage, the clock was ticking steadily towards the midnight hour but the kitchen clearly had no pumpkins manning the stoves. In the spirit of self-preservation we declined the offer of a lamb dish and instead went straight to dessert. I'm generally not a fan of desserts that involve large chunks of fruit, but this dish of warm grilled peaches with raspberry sorbet was simply sublime and a wonderful dessert for the time of year where summer is gradually giving way to autumn.
|Raviolo with fillet of beef|
|Langoustine with quail's egg|
|Cod with Indian spices, peas and gnocchi|
|Grilled peaches with raspberry sorbet|
A few weeks later, we returned to Bijou for a restorative brunch (or Brunchy Lunchy as written on the menu). It's a well-assembled menu with lighter options and more substantial dishes for those more in need of assistance. There's also a selection of cocktails, and we plumped for the delectable Hedgerow Fizz (elderflower cordial and prosecco).
My risotto of naturally smoked haddock was dressed with a perfect poached egg, which I popped open with glee, watching the liquid gold of the yolk cascade out. The use of haddock was perfectly judged, adding saltiness to the risotto but not overpowering with smoky flavour. His portion of Eggs Benedict came with large juicy prawns and avocado all dressed with a slightly spicy cajun hollandaise and coriander.
|The classic breakfast partners|
|Eggs Benedict with prawns, avocado and cajun Hollandaise|
|Smoked haddock risotto with poached egg|
I am genuinely excited to have Ian Ussher cooking on my doorstep. He is a clear talent who makes excellent use of Irish ingredients, with well-balanced flavours and elegant modern presentation. It's hard to believe that I am eating in my local bistro as it really feels more like a fine-dining restaurant in the city centre. I fully recommend following Ian and Bijou on Twitter where he regularly posts pictures of the daily specials. These luscious snaps have nearly sent me down the road to Bijou on more than one occasion.
There are great plans afoot to fully revitalise Bijou. Obviously the changes have already started in the kitchen, but more is needed.This isn't going to be a case of slapping on some party clothes and makeup in an effort to look younger. It's going to go deeper. A mixologist will join to create cocktails at the magnificent bar, the website is going to get fully overhauled and there will be special offers (a burger or steak and a beer for €20 on weekday nights). And it's all going to be underpinned by the food of Chef Ussher. It's all turning up rosy for Bijou's future at the heart of Rathgar.
Tel: +353 (0)1496 1518
Twitter: @BijouBistro and @IUssher