A twenty minute wait for Dublin Bus on a dull and dreary, rainy Thursday evening was not what I had romanticised when making a dinner date at Chez Max in Dublin. I had envisioned myself arriving casually, but fashionably late to my rendez-vous with some chic friends. Instead I arrived flustered and hair-blown having run down the not-so-classy Dame Street in the rain. But the transformation to Parisian chic did occur the minute I stepped through the front door of this quaint, but buzzy restaurant. Authentically so, the waiters and kitchen staff here are French and this adds significantly to the whole experience. I immediately spotted and joined my three companions nestled together at a slightly elevated table and relaxed into what was to be a laid-back, but thoroughly pleasurable evening of chat and food.
We decided to go straight to the main course, leaving room for dessert and cheese. It was a difficult decision so I made the immediate resolution to come back and explore the menu further (maybe judging a book by its cover but when it comes to restaurants I have found that my gut is normally right). Feeling 'like chicken tonight' I went for the 'Suprême de poulet, sauce au Beaufort,' served with pilaf rice. We also had the Moules Frites and the Steak Frits with pepper sauce. The French Onion Soup and a side of potato gratin made a meal for our last diner. So really by our selections, this was to be a test of ingredients and knowledge, rather than skills and frills. So often this is the case with proper French cooking, but here we really went back to basics. What we sought was flavour and depth, in comforting and satisfying food and we were not left short changed.
Three perfectly portioned plates of food arrived at our table in good time(after a catch up of news and gossip), joined by a deep bowl of rich brown, glossy goodness and a little side plate generously endowed with thinly sliced, oven hot layered potatoes. And instant silence fell as we tucked in. My chicken supreme (breast with wing attached) was perfectly cooked, moist and flavoursome and was served with just the right amount of slightly thickened but silky sauce, which was creamy with a tangy edge. The pilaf rice was perfectly cooked and moulded on the plate so that it retained its piping heat. Crisply sautéed in onion and cooked out in a good stock, retaining its savoury flavours-delish! A few pan-fried French beans brought the dish together colourfully. The steak, cooked medium (catering to Irish tastes medium and not French bloody medium) and moules delivered and more. The chips were homemade, medium cut and dark golden brown. And and not a trace of a soggy chip was to be found amongst the two portions served up to us. The French onion soup came not with gruyere toasts, but with croutons and grated gruyere on the side. Maybe not what you might expect but just as good. A good French onion soup needs time. Long slow cooking is the key here. Hardly likely to break their own rules, the onions had been slowly caramelised and the beef broth slowly simmered and reduced. Combined, a marriage made in heaven. As for the potato gratin, we are familiar with several varieties. These were the buttery, oily kind as opposed to the creamy, cheesy kind. Cooked through but with a bit of bite, it definitely required some good skill and timing to get them just right.
Service was very good-pleasant and attentive, without coming over every five seconds. Only when all had finished their meal were our plates whisked away, etiquette that is so often overlooked in restaurants and really gets my goat!
To round off the meal, we had one tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart), one crème brulée and one cheese plate. The tart was pretty as a picture and nice but lacking something. The crème pâtissière was not quite rich enough, nor was the pate sucree (sweet pastry). The pastry also had a hint of ginger as far as I could detect, which would not be to my preference, but this is nit-picking! The crème brulée was professed faultless and looked the part in a rustic ramekin with a nicely burnt top. A choice of two cheeses from a selection is offered. Our cheese aficionado choose the Sainte Maure (goat’s cheese) and the camembert. Upon delivery we remarked that for E5.50 the portion size was a bit scabby. But the phrase 'quality over quantity' came to mind as it turned out that a little went a long way. In the end the two small wedges were just right served up with some crusty French baguette.
After a superb meal our bill was very reasonable, working out at about E20 a head. Of course we stuck to tap water but an extensive wine list caters for all tastes and budgets. I would say go for the early bird, but a similar selection appears on the a la carte for much the same price. The menu sings value and you won't be disappointed. Unless you can get flights return to Paris with Ryanair for less, just go. It’s the real deal and a more authentic experience you will not find on the streets of Dublin. And if you're a lady go for the barman/tall dark and handsome waiter. The best dish of the night. Just a shame I didn't get a taste...