Jonathan Keane has arrived.
In truth, Mr Keane booked his ticket to the arrival venue years ago, when he first began to attract attention, as the chef in Westport’s Mill Race Hotel.
From there he moved to Lisloughrey Lodge, the Manor House of Ashford Castle, in Cong, County Mayo. When Ashford was bought over, they rechristened the house The Lodge, and Wilde’s Restaurant is the upstairs dining room.
His food was always ambitious, always striving, but in fact it was over-ambitious. That’s no problem: that's the sort of thing hungry young chefs do. They try too hard.
But today, in 2017, Mr Keane is nailing his dishes with such sureness and certainty, with such a sense of culinary poetry, that he is concocting some of the best food in the county.
Take a little bobbin of black pudding and chocolate that starts everything off, for instance. It's so easy to get something like this wrong, and for it to send your stomach all the wrong signals - chocolate to start dinner? Hmmm...
But the kitchen nails it, the bobbin of pudding and chocolate is a beauty, and from there they are headed home with gas in the tank, offering sexy food, from a pair of menus – the menu of Discovery, and the Grazing menu.
We ate a splendiferous dish of cannelloni of king oyster mushrooms with sea grass, and superb scallops ceviche with Goatsbridge trout caviar and a seaweed sourdough crisp that is the finest Communion wafer north of Galway. The baking skills of the kitchen are prodigious, from the trio of excellent breads to the light-as-a -feather pastry that shrouds a bowl of carrot and cumin soup.
Pollock with beetroot textures and a vinaigrette of mushrooms, and a smart dish of potato risotto with peas and artichoke velouté are rich and delighting, and after a fine wood sorrel granita, the kitchen wheels out their 72% chocolate pudding.
People, if you have ever eaten one of those Double Decker bars that are on every confectionery counter, then this is for you: this is the Double Decker made in heaven, rich and biscuity and crazy. A pudding of gingerbread with butternut squash mousse had to cede the limelight.
Other highpoints in Wilde’s Restaurant: Sebastian’s cocktails at the little bar are amongst the best in the country; service, under manageress Aisling Ruane, is simply first class.
Great cooking; great service; great cocktails. The Lodge at Ashford Castle has got the lot.
Jonathan Keane has arrived.
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