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Alexis rings the changes

American business psychologist Warren G Bennis, is on record as saying: "People who cannot invent and reinvent themselves must be content with borrowed postures, secondhand ideas, fitting in instead of standing out."

This should be committed to heart by restaurateurs, too many of whom seem content to stick to timeworn formulas until the closure sign goes up on the door.

It's generally recognised that five years is about as long as a restaurant can survive before major changes have to be made and that the trick is to make such changes before they become a last resort.

Alexis, a popular restaurant in Dun Laoghaire, has been in business about four-and-a-half years. Recently, Patrick O'Reilly and his brother, chef Alan, decided time for change had come and with it the chance to remedy criticisms that the dining room is noisy and the service sometimes a tad ragged.







acoustics

Here's Patrick announcing (on my website forum) the proposed changes: "Over the next four weeks we will be renovating the restaurant, reducing the numbers and taking the food, service and wine list up a level. We will be making the room a bit softer and more intimate and have been advised by an acoustics expert to help us along.

"We have recruited a new head chef and have replaced some other staff with more experienced personnel. We will be doing intensive training with all of those remaining to upskill them to the level we want.

"We're seriously excited about the direction the food is going to take and I'm personally buzzing about the new wine list I'm in the process of putting together.

"We plan to keep our pricing at about the same level and retain the accessibility and relaxed nature of the service."

That's some mission statement. If Pat and Alan could pull it off, we should give them charge of Ireland's regeneration. Accordingly, Ruby, Pearl and myself navigated the challenging Dun Laoghaire one-way system intent on checking whether the Alexis revamp had ticked all the boxes.

First off, the dining room, while not intimate, is certainly cosier. The new soft furnishings and the acoustic baffling have given the space a calmer, quieter demeanour.



skilled

Our service requirements were amply met by a skilled and personable South African lad and by Pat himself. The timing between courses was immaculate, which makes such a difference to the enjoyment of a multi-course meal.

The new wine list justified Pat's "buzz". Picpoul seems to be making an impression. To me it seems like the white wine all you Pinot Grigio drinkers have been waiting for, a wine for our times, a half-way house between stingy Sauvignon Blanc and fat-cat Chardonnay.

But the glory of Alexis has always been the food: impeccably sourced seasonal ingredients that are treated with love and respect. Venison, rare-breed pork, sweetbreads, pigeon and other rustic delights have featured regularly. So could this food for foodies get any better?

It soon became evident that it could. Starters, even the goat cheese one, avoided the habitual clichés. The dressing that came with my sweetbreads and wild mushrooms had the perfect amount of 'zing'. The flavour bursting from my wood pigeon was incredible, putting me in mind of those sherbet things I used to enjoy as a kid.

Ruby's hake glistened and the sight of Pearl's slow-cooked beef had me making preposterous promises in return for a mouthful. Presentation has been considerably sharpened up. Whereas Alexis's food previously had substance, it now has real style, too. You could have hung our desserts at the Tate Modern and charged a tenner to view. As for value for money, there is currently no better to be had within the confines of the Pale than Alexis Bar & Grill's €24 three-courser.