Friday, 11 November 2016

Restaurant Review: St. Kyran's Restaurant, Virginia, County Cavan

I was reminded of the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ when I visited St. Kyran’s Restaurant in Virginia, County Cavan recently. From the outside the property looks unremarkable - a humble, bungalow-style building with a distinctly residential feel. I was convinced that I had taken a wrong-turn along the way but the various hospitality awards displayed around the entrance suggested otherwise.
 
Bread
Once inside, we were greeted by Patricia, our charming waitress for the evening, who led us to our table in the spacious dining room. As we walked into the stylishly decorated room we gasped in amazement at the stunning panoramic views of Lough Ramor displayed through the large windows. This spectacular vista had been hidden from view by enormous trees on our approach to the building but was unveiled in all its glory when we entered the dining room.
 
The Head Chef at St. Kyran’s is Eddie Atwell who many people will be familiar with after his recent appearance on the BBC’s Great British Menu where he battled against Mark Abbott (from the Michelin 2-starred Midsummer House, Cambridge) and Chris McGowan (Head Chef/Proprietor of Wine & Brine in Moira, County Down) in the Northern Ireland heats of the competition. Up for grabs was the chance to cook at a banquet in the Palace of Westminster honouring Great Britons during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Eddie came up against some stiff competition and whilst he did not cook at the banquet, he certainly laid down his credentials as one of the most exciting young chefs in Ireland at the moment.
 
Crab
Originally from Craigavon in County Armagh, Eddie spent a number of years working in the UK. A Roux Scholarship finalist, he worked at the Michelin 2-starred L’Enclume before moving to Ardtara Country House and then on to St. Kyran’s where his love of using foraged and locally-sourced ingredients has been enthusiastically supported by owners Patrick and Helena Keenan.
 
An À La Carte Dinner Menu and Early Bird Menu were available on the Wednesday evening that we visited. However, we decided to go for the 7-course Tasting Menu (€60 per person) which is available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings only. The meal kicked off with a Selection of Breads including Fennel Bread, a Malted Sourdough and a surprisingly light Wheaten Sourdough. These were served with a Fennel Butter and a very interesting Nasturtia Pesto with lovely peppery notes.
 
Young Buck, Beetroot
An amuse bouche of Dressed Crab, Fennel & Seaweed Cracker was full of clean and distinct flavours that worked well together to highlight the gentle sweetness of the crab meat. Eddie Atwell is a chef who likes to play with textures and this was apparent in this dish and those that followed over the course of the meal. Here the crunch of the cracker balanced the cool smoothness of the accompanying gels and purées to create food that was interesting to eat and perfect as an amuse bouche to tickle the taste buds.
 
Young Buck Blue Cheese Custard, Beetroot, Hazelnut Granola, Red Chard was a beautiful dish full of the wonderful earthy flavours of beetroot which appeared in a number of guises on the plate; pickled, puréed, glazed and as a jam. Young Buck - a much celebrated raw milk cheese made in Northern Ireland was presented as a fabulous thick creamy custard that was a nice change from the goat’s cheese that beetroot is so often paired with. A hazelnut granola was particularly delicious and complemented the other elements of this dish perfectly.
 
Monkfish
By the time the Seared Tuna Loin, Heirloom Tomatoes, Rocket, Olive Crumb, Tomato Jam, Egg Yolk Gel arrived it was clear to us that the food being served in St. Kyran’s Restaurant is special. This is modern cooking using Irish produce where the chef wants to push boundaries… not just for the sake of it but because of a determination to explore the possibilities that these ingredients present. Here the flawlessly cooked tuna was paired with tomatoes - nothing too revolutionary at first glance - but the addition of a deeply savoury black olive crumb, a sticky tomato jam and an outstanding egg yolk gel elevated this dish to something truly memorable without being gimmicky.
 
Next up was one of my favourite dishes of the evening - Monkfish, Pearl Barley, Apple, Charred & Pickled Radish, Puffed Barley, Cockles, Cockle Cream - a plate of food that thrilled us with its balanced combination of tastes and textures. The pickled radish and sweet cockles were delicious eaten together and I also loved both the pearl barley ‘risotto’ and puffed barley. Balls of crisp apple completed the dish and introduced some fruity acidity which was needed to counteract the richness of the cockle cream.
 

Wood Pigeon
A choice of dishes is offered for the main course on the tasting menu and being a huge lover of game I immediately decided on the Wood Pigeon, Hazelnut Crumb, Burnt Orange Purée, Celeriac Confit & Purée, Drummond House Garlic Crisps. This was a bang-in-season dish, full of the deep, rich flavours of autumn. I loved the slightly bitter edge of the burnt orange purée eaten with the gamey pigeon and the way that the hazelnut crumb brought out the underlying nutty sweetness of the celeriac. This was intelligent cooking. My companion’s Pan Seared Beef Fillet, Braised Blade, Onion Seed Gnocchi, Girolle Mushrooms was well-thought out and, in many ways, probably the most conventional plate of food we ate during the meal. The flavoursome onion seed gnocchi was fantastic and a simple but clever addition. This was a dish designed to please and judging by the murmurs of pleasure from across the table, this was achieved.
 

Pan-Seared Beef Fillet
A pre-dessert of Poached Rhubarb, Rhubarb Compote, Rhubarb Gel, Sorrel Syrup, Yoghurt Mousse, Brown Butter Tuile presented in a small stoneware bowl was beautiful to look at and a joy to eat. Rhubarb can be a tricky ingredient as its inherent sharpness demands some sweetening but too much can kill its flavour. This was not a problem here as each of the rhubarb elements in this dessert were expertly handled and brought together as a coherent plate of food by the inclusion of an incredible sorrel syrup and a refreshing yoghurt sorbet.
 
A choice of two main desserts was offered so we decided to try one each. My Ginger Cake, Blackcurrant Leaf & Velvet Cloud Sheep’s Milk Mousse, Poached Pear, Gin & Lime Ice was a substantial dish which included a generous portion of a well-made traditional sticky ginger cake. This was paired with slices of poached pear and an espuma milk mousse that  lightened the dish. A granita flavoured with gin and lime cut through the sweetness of the cake and was a flavour addition that I liked against the spicy ginger. My companion’s Wexford Strawberries, Port & Black Pepper Syrup, Crème Fraiche, Candied Macadamia, Linum Seed was equally good and a dessert where the strawberries were the star-of-the-show. I particularly liked the black pepper syrup which really brought out the flavour of the fruit.
 
Rhubarb
St. Kyran’s wine list  includes a good selection of well-chosen wines which, in the main are reasonably priced. It is also great to see that quite a few are available by the glass. We enjoyed a Four Sisters Shiraz (€7.90 per glass €29.50 per bottle)  which was full of dark fruit flavours and a peppery finish which was a lovely ‘compromise’ choice that went well with a wide variety of the dishes that we ate.
 
I enjoyed every aspect of my meal at St. Kyran’s. Eddie Atwell is producing some very exciting, thought- provoking food; food that is experimental but grounded by sound technique and driven by the quality of the ingredients that are used. Highly recommended.
(Note: In addition to its restaurant, St. Kyran’s also offers elegant country house B&B accommodation).
 
St. Kyran’s Restaurant
Virginia
County Cavan
Telephone: 0498547087
 
Wexford Strawberries