Etto: Finding a Parisian bistro in the heart of Dublin
Here is a list of the things I miss the most from Paris (non-exhaustive or in any particular order): baguettes, croissants, walking in the street, museums, the metro, my friends, cafés and bistros.
While Dublin proudly boasts many fabulous restaurants, it doesn’t offer the typical French experience that is the bistro... or so I thought. When we went to Etto to celebrate a big family event recently, it felt like, all of a sudden, I was in a Parisian bistro, in the best meaning of the word.
Traditionally, bistros were small restaurants serving simple and affordable meals in a modest setting, yet the past fifteen years have seen a metamorphosis of the sad troquet into a more modern, relevant version. This whole movement is named “bistronomy”, for bistro meets gastronomy.
With its tiny window over Merrion Row, its rectangular wooden tables, its comptoir at the back of the room and its short seasonal menu, Etto ticks pretty much all the boxes of the contemporary Parisian bistro.
Awarded a Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand, Etto boasts a daily changing menu. Our table of nine was offered a concise menu: 3 courses for €25 euros, with just three options for each course. We were off to a good start.
For the entree, I got to enjoy some perfectly cooked Wye valley asparagus, served with a Manchego cream, some crunchy hazelnut and lovage; a fresh, engaging, honest dish. The mussels, samphire, nduja and datterini tomatoes were also popular at my table. The rich meaty taste of the nduja gave this gorgeous entree a deliciously Spanish vibe.
My main was the grilled cod, served with white asparagus, leek, dulse and a small side of tarama. Although it was the same fish I had a few days before in The Greenhouse, the cooking process made it a completely different experience. Grilling makes the fish dryer than steaming, but the browned sides were nonetheless very pleasant, while the dulse and the herb jus added some depth to the dish.
On the other side of the table, the braised lamb shoulder, aubergine, grelot onions and chickpeas weren't less of a success. The lamb literally melted on the mouth.
Among the sides, the winner was by far the kohlrabi, blue radish, rocket and caper salad, a remarkably fresh and crunchy dish with Mediterranean undertones. Everyone happily indulged in the luscious hashed potatoes and Lyonnaise onions.
The bistro experience wouldn't have been complete without a key element of a French-spirited meal: le pain! In this instance, it came from Le Levain, accompanied by a generous amount of butter, and served in the small wooden bowls you can find in every single French household. A pure delectation.
For dessert, the red wine prunes found a great partner in the generous vanilla mascarpone it came with, as the roundness and creaminess of the cheese highlighted the sweet tartness of the fruit.
The lemon posset, topped with a lime granita and gin, was a light and crisp conclusion to this beautifully straightforward meal. I tremendously enjoy this kind of sincere cooking, where ingredients don't hide behind too much sauce or complication. You get the true taste of the food, in all its glory.