He is larger-than-life, is Martin Kajuiter, both literally – he is toweringly tall – and figuratively – he is a huge presence, a guy who is up for it, a guy who was always going to make his mark through the strength of his determination, his ego, his talent. When Catherine Cleary of The Irish Times road-tested three of the Waterford restaurants in this book who collaborate together – The Tannery, O’Brien Chop House and House restaurant at The Cliff House – it came as no surprise that her standout dish of the trip was a Cliff House starter of poached pigeon breast, confit leg, with cabbage meringues, compressed apples and meat fruit in the form of a green jelly apple with a foie gras interior.
Kajuiter’s work is closer to artist-painter than chef. His concern for textures ranges from the ruddy to the ethereal. His concern for the scents of a dish is paramount, but the secret of his brilliance is his ability to understand the possibilities inherent in the simplest things – herbs, flowers, carrots, cabbage, and to re-contextualise these simple things in the most thrilling way imaginable. He makes it different, and he makes it new.
The hotel has the good fortune to have a manager, Adriaan Bartels, who is as accomplished as his chef. The rooms are sublimely impressive, regardless of whether you’re in the most basic room or glamming it up in the duplex Terrace Suites, and there’s no escaping the setting, on the cliffside overlooking the stunning Ardmore Bay. Of course, Martin Kajuiter’s food is a huge component of Cliff House, as you might expect. What you might not expect is how much fun it is to try to hit a golf ball onto the hotel’s floating green out in the bay. Or to leave the heated swimming pool and take a dip in the rock pool beneath the hotel. Or sit in the jacuzzi in the pouring rain. Such fun is all the more enjoyable because, despite the hotel’s status, it is not in the least bit stuffy. Cliff House is a modern Irish classic.