About 15km from Adare Mansion, I fire up the engine to evacuate another car simulator, chomping at the brakes to get to my destination, when our trusty jalopy “suddenly pulls a hamstring,” instantly stopping our charge as we shudder violently in the slow lane and the ’95 Starlet driven by Methuselah’s great-grandmother spins around 45 km/h, leaving us for dead in its dust.
I pull over to assess the damage but since my mechanical abilities extend to putting diesel rather than petrol in the tank and getting it right, oh almost most of the time it turns out a futile exercise. We drive the rest of our journey in first gear, 6 mph, past afternoon tea time, past swim and sauna time, and dangerously close to kicking off the cocktail hour.
We finally arrive at the gates of Adare Manor, wondering if we’ll make it to the gate and if we could even fit in a quick podcast in the time it takes us to cover the last few hundred yards. Upon entering, the wonderful gate staff gushes sympathy and reassurance as a kind valet sits down to lead her into a back yard. A local mechanic is already on the way, though I spend the next half hour with one ear perked for a merciful shot.
Believe me, dear reader, my preprandial and rather excellent Negroni is entirely medicinal!
When I first dined at the Oak Room four years ago, Chef Mike Tweedie’s ability was immediately apparent, but he was still settling in, learning about local produce, delivery on the plate difficult to define in terms of provenance and terroir, the essential basis of a truly distinctive menu. But since then, I’ve watched from afar as Tweedie’s menus increasingly reflect his deep dive into his backcountry; a culinary evolution is immediately necessary as soon as we start with the ‘snacks’.
Dooncastle Oyster, lightly steamed to plump up its nutty, salty flesh and eliminate the “stickiness” that makes SpouseGirl one of nature’s finest foods, is dressed with diced cucumber, green chili, gravy teriyaki and sesame seeds, vibrant, playful fare.
Shorthorn flank steak is served in tartar, the soft iron of the beef made sumptuous with the egg yolk, the sourness of pickled ransoms, a zesty counterpoint, a combination of Singing Frog Gardens wasabi, West Cork, and caviar , adding a zesty power to its umami punch. The choux pastry of a gougère enveloping whipped Galway goat cheese, Gubbeen salami and truffle, is topped with a sweet and salty brittle cracker dough which, combined with the lactic acidity of the cheese, gives this magnificent bite has a nice sweet and lemony flavor.
After excellent homemade breads (sourdough, potato and onion seed bread) with Abernethy butter, we move on to lush hand-dipped Norwegian scallops (all Irish scallops are dredged), flesh pearly white sauce finished in the pan with golden amber and served with a tasty whey sauce and fermented asparagus broth, whipped with butter and caviar, a sublime marriage of the ocean and the fields.
The roasted turbot, firm, meaty flesh served with chanterelle mushrooms, Australian truffle, compressed in olive oil and salt and fluffy, savory yellow wine sauce, maintains the marine theme, the excellent and unique Tweedie’s take on classic old school cooking.
Next is Higgins beef cooked over charcoal, smoky musk on the browned exterior, sliced to reveal a cheeky seam of pink flesh. As an accompaniment, a braised oxtail fondant and delicious idyllic green beans. A juice of red wine completes the dish. As an accompaniment, an excessively sinful buttered mash garnished with airy and crunchy potato soufflés.
Strawberry Parteen is a demure offering, the first of the pleasant but all-too-predictable sweet dishes, served with raw milk mousse, nitro milk ice cream and preserved elderflower and spruce oil, then followed another from the classic playbook, white chocolate and pistachio florentine, covered with pistachio ganache, cherry fruit pâté and finished with a cherry and chocolate cream; on the side, pistachio ice cream.
Although I’m increasingly turning away from the decadent, indulgent excess of old school desserts, it’s too well executed to give up. Still, I give the petits fours a skip, all apparently very decent, according to SpouseGirl.
Instead, I reserve for the cheese platter, a splendid offering of 20 best Irish farmhouse cheeses, my selection including Ballylisk Triple Rose and Cáis na Tíre, perfectly matured and at an ideal temperature, carefully farmed, shamefully rare in Irish hospitality.
The new Danish sommelier Jonathan Jønsson is a real find. His pairings effortlessly deploy conventional classics from a powerful cellar to appease traditionalists while slipping in superb natural wines, reflecting his own passions and ours.
The service is the biggest improvement of all: on our previous visit, it ranged from the sublime to the zany, former and very excellent sommelier Jurica Gojevic alongside a host of charming but entirely amateur young Irish waiters; the entire floor team is now made up of career professionals, equally charming but with essential skills to match.
Tweedie’s menus will always have to be written with an eye to the more conservative, 90% American clientele, including many golfers, and safety over risk is the default option.
It’s not a bad thing in itself, because it’s a very good meal: a real flawless meal, superb local products cooked in a simple and natural style but with technical precision, finesse and flavors to match. -you ; luxury imported additions including truffle and caviar are judiciously applied notes of grace rather than lazy fallbacks to fill gaps in the culinary imagination and, yes, there is now a strong sense of place.
Still, I suspect Tweedie has so much more to offer, that his unbridled passions would translate into real drama on the plate, and, I’ve said it before, if he ever gets to open his own restaurant, I’ll be at the head of the queue.
- Food: 9
- Serving: 8.5
- Value: 8
- Atmosphere: 8
- Tablet: €140pp for the Signature Menu. Food and wine pairing 100€pp.