One of the very off the beaten track Michelin Starred restaurants in Ireland so needless to say I was pretty excited about making a trip last week. I was in the area so took a trip to the hotel earlier that day for a coffee and to take it in. The setting is amazing, genuinely amazing, sipping a coffee on the balcony overlooking the bay was class. It set me up nicely for my trip that night.
As I like to do I arrived a little early and we were shown to our seats which was a table for 2 in the window looking out across the balcony into the bay. We were offered menus and asked if we would like still or sparking water which arrived in double quick time. We were just settling into the menu when we were served an amuse bouche which was a trio of Beetroot Macaroon with goats cheese, a mushroom panacotta with dried capers, and a mini choux pastry filled with butternut squash puree. The macaroon was class, the choux ok, the panacotta was interesting with a lingering aftertaste which you could love or hate depending on your love of mushrooms.
I felt the menu was pretty limited, we had a choice of 5 starters, 5 main courses and 5 deserts and rather disappointingly the menu included fillet steak on the main course which I felt was a little lazy. We opted for the matching wines with our dinner and it was interesting even if I thought he was a little light with what he put in my glass on more than one occasion.
For starter I had duck which was pretty much a roll of duck breast, a roulade of duck leg wrapped in cherry jelly, duck popcorn, a deep fried cherry, freeze dried cherries and a chargrilled spring onion. It seemed to have a dressing consisting of olive oil base with hints of lemon and cherry? The other half had smoked salmon which was pretty much smoked salmon with beetroot, salmon caviar and it was served with a dome of smoke that was lifted and diffused for additional effect upon delivery. In short my duck was decidedly average. The presentation was in keeping with what you would expect but either my taste buds were dead or the food lacked any flavour. I am opting for the latter. The missus said her salmon was excellent and she really enjoyed it.
We were served a lemon sorbet with cucumber jelly and sea salt foam - this was very good and offered a glimpse of why it may have earned a star.
For main I went for the lamb dish which was rack, rump and sweetbread of lamb with a drizzle of jus, the rack had a saddle of some sort of lamb stuffing, I also think there was some sort of cauliflower puree (couldn’t be sure though) as well as a scattering of broadbeans. If I seem a little uncertain as to what I ate well that is because I was. For me dining in a restaurant like this is an experience and part of that experience is the narrative around the food, the waiter taking his time to explain the nuances of your dish to you. So when the manager of the restaurant walked up, chucked our food down and walked away without a hint of insight as to what we were going to eat I was pretty pissed off about it. The menu is not very descriptive so I expect the narrative. If you are not going to provide the narrative then put the info on the menu for me. That aside the dish was decent but lacked a bit of filler by way of veg or potatoes. My other half had veal which was served as a roulade stuffed with scallion type stuffing and it sat on some potato rosti along with some jus. She thought it was very nice but was in no way excited about it.
At this stage I felt we were left to wait some time to get desert menus, once they arrived I am absolutely certain that we were left far too long to be asked for our order. I ordered 'Pistachio' and herself ordered the selection of cheese. The sommelier arrived with the wine and had poured and explained herself' wine and was finishing pouring mine when the desert arrived. A plate of cheese along with various selections of pressed figs and homemade oat cakes and toasted brioche along with a shot of apple juice. My desert came in two parts, first I was presented with a piping hot Pistachio soufflé and then a selection of rhubarb and orange 'marmalade' which was basically a heavy set jelly topped with a sorbet. The waitress (is that PC? or are they all waiters?) then took a long spoon and pierced down through the middle of the soufflé and proceeded to pour in a cream like substance. The waitress turned to leave and I called her back and said something along the lines of 'surely you are not just going to serve that and walk off to leave us wondering what we are going to eat?'. I was wrong, turn and leave she did. She said she would return momentarily when the sommelier was finished with me (he was 10 seconds from being finished but she didn't seem interested in trying to find out). She left, he left, we ate in wonder. I don't say this lightly but it is quite possible that the pistachio soufflé element of my desert was singly the best desert I have ever eaten in my life, it was beyond brilliant. It was very heavy though and it alone was more than enough as a desert. As I was finishing the soufflé and as herself was finished with her cheese a different waiter came to our table to explain our course to us. I am pretty certain that the sommelier sent him my way but i couldn't be 100% sure on it. It turns out the cream was crème anglaise. The 2nd element of my dish did nothing for me but rhubarb isn't my thing and I was already full from the very excellent soufflé. Herself really enjoyed the cheese selection but as with my comment on serving steak I believe that serving a cheese selection for desert in a Michelin starred restaurant is a tad on the lazy side.
We ordered tea/coffee which was served sans the advertised petit fours. Tea grinds my gears - it is a luxury item but restaurants in Ireland don't get that, instead they chuck a tea bag in a pot of scaldy water and serve it up to you. I will go on a crusade to educate the Irish on tea and I will succeed. The accompanying wines were very nice and I enjoyed them all and they were certainly well matched with the food. Herself was particularly keen on her desert wine which was a sweet Spanish red, served cold. I tried it also and I concur with her findings.
Overall the food was not to the same standard as say Chapter One, the service was nowhere near the standard of Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and at the time I summed it up by saying that if The Cliff House is deserving of one Star then Chapter One deserves a second. On reflection though I would change my mind. I honestly don't think it deserves a star. A one starred establishment is meant to be worth a stop. The service wasn't up to scratch and I was enraged by the lack of narrative on my main course, especially so as the restaurant manager served it to us. Add to this the waitress serving my desert along with the pronounced delay in ordering our desert I would have to say that the service lets this place down. The food varied widely - my starter was decidedly bland, my main was decent but not electrifying and one part of my desert was the best I ever let past my lips. Herself said she enjoyed hers but was quick to say that she would rate Neven Maguires well ahead of it. I also wonder if it is justifiable to get a Michelin Star for serving slices of cheese?
Overall it was good but very underwhelming. The setting and soufflé were the greatest redeeming features but I have eaten far better food in non starred establishments. I don’t expect that it retains its star upon next inspection. If it does the assessor will be a soufflé loving fiend who happened to call on a warm sunny evening.
The bill was €210 odd. I wouldn't be telling you to get there at any cost, I wouldn't even tell you to get their if you were in the area as you are likely to be disappointed!!
Postscrpit > I was told on the following morning that the chef who held the reins when they won the Michelin Star no longer works there. This fact remains unverified though.
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