On a wintery, windy night, the Chez Max bistro in Dublin was a welcome refuge for two umbrella-wielders. On this occasion we were in their original spot, nestled beside the entrance to Dublin Castle. They also have a second restaurant, with epicurie selling French foods, on Baggot Street.

My companion, a total Francophile, was completely in her element. Instantly at ease, she was showing off her sing-song pronunciations of their bi-lingual menu to the backdrop of Edith Piaf’s distinctive tones. With intimate low lighting, swathes of red velvet and parchment-style menus it’s as close to Paris as Dublin’s Palace Street will ever get. Throughout our entire meal the staff were friendly and warm, further adding to the cosy brassiere effect.

Both a lunch and dinner venue, the menu covers traditional fare like Croque Monsieurs, terrines and French onion soup as well as heartier bowls of boeuf borguignon or mussels. Very much weighted to meat options, there are a few vegetarian tarts available. As expected, the wine menu consists largely of French stalwarts from the Loire Valley, the Burgundy region and the South of France, all reasonably priced starting at just €5.50 for a glass of their house wine.

Getting into the spirit of all things French, I went for the Brie in filo pastry with cranberries and candied onions (€8): soft melted Brie encased in flaky pastry with some sweet, crunchy textures to offset the richness. Berets off to the chef for this one.

My companion, attempting to try something different and not dive straight for her favourite gruyère-topped onion soup, gingerly opted for salmon tartare with pickled avocado, sage and pink peppercorn (€8.50). Not a fan of overtly peppery tastes she was rewarded instead with buttery-soft salmon and mouth-waves of gentle heat.

My roast duck breast (€18.50) was moist and tender with just the right amount of red wine jus lightly covering the meat. Meanwhile, my companion couldn’t resist the steak frites (€21), a striploin steak and chips with confit shallot. A quality piece of beef was cooked to her liking with both of us dipping fries into the punchy, creamy béarnaise long after the meat was scuppered.

Although there was an array of sweet tarts, mousses and a very seductive looking crème brûlée on display, we decided to share a little cheese instead. For the mini cheese platter (€5.50) you choose two of the available chesses, which consisted of Brie, a French goat’s cheese, a soft cheese called Pont-l’Évêque and Comté. Ordinarily, the cheese course is one of the jewels in the French culinary crown. Not in this case unfortunately. An unnecessary clump of salad dominated the plate alongside some unremarkable Brie and goat’s cheese – a pity.

We lingered amid the chic Franco-Dub crowd over excellent coffees, prolonging our French escape just a little longer.

It’s true that everything always sounds better in French. In the case of Chez Max, the French menu delivers more than just a linguistic treat: warm Gallic charm to offset cold winter nights.

LORRAINE GRIFFIN

We loved Authentic French food in chic Parisienne surroundings

We spent €124 on two starters, two mains, one cheese platter, a bottle of wine, two coffees and two glasses Champagne plus tip

Chez Max
1 Palace Street,
Dublin 2.
Tel: +(0)1 633 7215;
www.chezmax.ie