Since 2005, Dax restaurant has offered a high quality Irish-French cuisine menu in Dublin City Centre. With an intimate Georgian basement setting, featuring an open fire, hardwood ceilings and luxury carpeted flooring, it is not difficult to see why the restaurant has been nominated as the Best Restaurant in Dublin for the past three years in the Food and Wine Magazine Restaurant of the Year Awards, winning in 2014. I spoke to owner Olivier Meisonnave and new head chef Graham Neville about how they keep their menu alive and the challenges facing the business.
Recent refurbishments on the beautiful restaurant include newly carpeted floors and panels sectioning the bar and seating, which was completed after an overhaul of the bathrooms. This has created a more comfortable and cosy environment for the eatery, which at capacity seats 60.
Originally set up as a wine bar in 2004, customers urged Olivier to turn the space an actual restaurant, a decision which he is glad that he made. In 2005, he put linen on the tables and began to serve food also, and according to him “It was the best decision I ever made because if I hadn’t done this, I would not be here right now”.
Dax has always had a strong focus on seasonal food. With new chef Graham Neville on board, the menu will be even more focused on fresh seasonal ingredients with the majority of them, bar lemons and limes, being sourced within the Dublin area.
“Fresh seasonal food has been a feature of the business for the last 12 years, but I will champion this idea,” explained Graham.
I want to highlight the best of what Ireland has to offer in terms of produce.
The restaurant uses suppliers such as Pat McLaughlin for beef, Kish Fish for their fish supplies and Caterway for vegetables. Graham regularly visiting farms, such as Iona farm near Swords in county Dublin, to see what is available for the next three week period and building the menu around this.
“There is a revolution of small growers in Dublin at the moment and Caterway has been acting like a co-op for all of these,” he explained.
Current offerings on the menu include courgette flowers stuffed with scallops, homemade gnocchi with wet garlic and quail and smoked eel, with Graham stating that “The food on the plate will do the talking”.
In this way, Brexit has not had any obvious effect on them yet as most of their suppliers are all local. However, Brexit, Olivier feels, has had an impact in terms of the amount of couples and families that travel for pleasure over from the UK and has reduced some of the tourist trade for them.
Both Graham and Olivier remain positive however, as they are unsure as to how this will effect them long term – Graham positively believes there are “Links between Ireland and England anyway so time will tell exactly”. Corporate customers from the UK still make up a large part of their business, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays being big days at the restaurant.
Olivier hopes the 9% VAT rate does not increase as this will inevitably lead to an increase in prices for customers, which he would like to avoid as much as possible.
Staffing issues are one of the biggest challenges for Dax, as they are for many other businesses at the moment. “Nobody sees service as a serious career in Ireland,” Olivier stated.
It is very difficult to find people who can work more than 25 hours a week that are willing to work in service.
He believes that a lot of Irish people left during the recession, making it difficult to attract people to waiting positions. Oliver said there are lots of additional costs as regards advertising for these positions through both recruitment agencies and online. The business currently employs 14 staff: 6 chefs, 2 porters and 6 floor staff, with many of them working for the business as long as ten years.
The restaurant does not advertise online, as Olivier states that the results of spending are “Unquantifiable” but hopes through word of mouth that their reputation will continue to create reservations.
When asked what the main ethos of the business was he replied “Consistency” throughout the quality of food and service.
According to Graham, “Some of the best restaurants in Ireland would be in a square mile radius of here”. It most certainly is true that the Dublin 2 area boasts an array of high quality dining, with the National Concert Hall located nearby also. In order to maintain these high standards he believes that they have to “Be critical of what you are doing yourself and not be afraid of self-policing”.