The French dinner: Limerick style


I was back in Limerick for an anniversary Mass this weekend. After the Saturday evening church service (the first I have attended since the previous anniversary mass on this same date last year) we headed into town.

We have a family tradition of going out for a meal after the church. Last year we had lunch in the Cornstore – a splendid establishment.

Being only an occasional taster of Limerick cuisine, this year I wanted to try somewhere new. This is a potentially annoying habit of mine. I like eating out, and enjoy the experience. But the next time the opportunity arises for an evening out, I am anxious to try somewhere new.

I suggested the Curragower which apparently does great seafood. It’s also an place that is strongly supportive of Munster rugby. Munster were playing Connaught in a match last night. Down the road in Thomond Park. I was told that there was not going to be a dinner with table service, and no guarantee of a a table at all. Shame, as I’ve heard great things about that venue. Never mind – I’ll get there eventually, on an evening that doesn’t clash with a major sporting event.

Instead I rang Freddy’s Bistro – a legend of dining out in Limerick. I was told that unless we were willing to eat at 5.30pm then otherwise it was impossible.

Damnation. It’s only the first Saturday in January. Surely people ought to be hibernating and recovering from the extravagance of the preceding fortnight.

My mother then reminded me that Saturday was Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas). This is a celebration in Ireland – where on 6th January, women head out for an evening of festivity and celebration with their female friends. It’s an old tradition and a very busy night – particularly this year as it fell on a Saturday.

This feast, along with the rugby match could mean sourcing a table for Murphys (and our associates) could be challenging.

I had a brainwave. How about the French Table on Steamboat Quay? Relatively new, and extremely French, this place seemed quite high end. They wouldn’t have rugby on in the background. It was worth a shot.

As I was feeling executive I used a pen to dial the number on the phone. It felt businesslike. The restaurant confirmed our reservation. Result.

After the Mass we drove into town and entered the dining room.

This looked plush and cosy. A gleaming wooden bar, subtle lighting and brown velvet seating.

The service was fast, friendly, discreet and unobtrusive. The bread baskets were refilled at speed.  A selection of starters was ordered – including a tossed green salad, pate with pickles, a tartiflette (which is a potato, bacon and cheese mini-stew). For myself I ordered the snails. It’s not that I have an overwhelming love of snails, it’s more that in the same manner that I like to try new restaurants, I also like to try dishes that I rarely sample. Snails are not a staple of the Irish diet, and I’d wager that this restaurant would be one of the few places in Ireland (and probably the only place in Limerick) you could get them.

My portion was a quantity of six. Along with my plate of striped snails in a shell, came a device that resembled a nutcracker – for securing the shell while you use the mini-fork to scoop out the snail flesh, which was coated in garlic sauce.

Snail is quite tasty. Similar in texture to mussels (without the fishy taste obviously) they were a nice appetiser, that didn’t threaten to spoil my appetite for the main course.

We were a party of six. We ordered six main courses. Duck a l’orange; lamb; beef bourguignon; chicken and hake for the others. I ordered rabbit.

It was only when the dish was brought to the table that I remembered that I had eaten rabbit before. Five years ago, I visited a friend who lived on a sheep farm, a four hour drive north of Perth, in Western Australia. On arrival at her summer cottage by the coast, close to the farm, she brought out dinner – a great big rabbit stew. Two days previously she had accidentally killed the rabbit by running it over. As she’s a farmer, she threw it in the back of her truck, brought it home, and proceeded to skin and stew it. A very delicious roadkill meal.

The French Table was more sophisticated. The sauce was rich, the vegetable and stuffing base was mouthwatering. A successful choice.

As we were having coffee after our meal (we were too full for dessert) I noticed a youngish man, robed from head to toe in black. A priest?

In my naivete I turned to my sister and pointed him out. Clearly this was not a real priest. If he was, then surely he’d be healing the sick and feeding the hungry, or whatever it is they are supposed to do these days.

I was not joking when I asked her if she thought he was a male stripper, hired to entertain a table of raucous ladies, out celebrating Women’s Christmas.

The look of alarm on her face told me that this was not the case. He was actually a priest.

Sure why not? Christmas is his busiest time of the year as well – may as well have a nice meal out in a good restaurant to unwind.

After our very lovely meal, in a smashing restaurant, we paid our bill and departed.

The French Table on Steamboat Quay is a very fine establishment, that I would highly recommend.


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