John McKenna is transported by Kevin Murphy’s sublime, artful food in Dingle’s idás.
Kevin Murphy is an artist. A artist by training, a painter, Mr Murphy is someone who has somehow wound up being a chef and restaurateur.
So, what kind of artist is the chef-patron of Dingle’s idás restaurant?
An Abstract-Expressionist? A Cubist? A Fauvist?
No, he’s an Impressionist. His cooking is designed to provoke – and to leave you with – dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds, of sense impressions.
His palette is the peninsula of Dingle, and he culls from hill and sea and shore – chickweed; unripe blackberries; wild sorrel; hazelnuts; buttermilk; salted pollock; Kerry lamb.
His brilliance lies in his arrangement of these ingredients, all the better to provoke you with flavours, and taste associations. Monkfish liver with unripe blackberries and chickweed: what’s going on with that dish? The answer is the play of textures, sources, seasons, colours. Mr Murphy takes these few ingredients, and with them he makes a canvas – bold lines here, subtle shadings there, a splash of colour, an astringent smudge.
The impression he wants to leave you with is the infinite potential of experience. It was fitting that the evening when we ate a tasting menu, during the Dingle Food Festival, the event allowed the idás menu to be matched with natural wines from Kilkenny’s Le Caveau, and with music by the dj John Carey.
Mr Murphy was aiming to ramp up the impressions everywhichway – sonic impressions; vinous impressions; culinary impressions. He kept a tight rein on everything, and the result was magical, confirming the maturity of one of the best chefs in the country.
Perhaps the best thing about idás is the fact that it is pure Kerry. You might compare Mr Murphy’s control and calm confidence in the kitchen with Enda McEvoy, let’s say, or Stephen Toman. Yet when the dish arrives, you are nowhere but Kerry. That foraged broth of land and sea with a Glenbeigh oyster plonks you right down at the shoreline of Slea Head; the amazing lamb with wild garlic works like a walk right over the top of the Conor Pass. Every dish ushers in the sense of the Dingle Peninsula, even when ingredients – Ballyhoura mushrooms; Crozier Blue cheese – hail from beyond the Kingdom. No matter: they are swiftly assimilated, and quickly married to a local.
Days later, you will still be trying to make sense of the dozens, scores, even hundreds, of sense impressions that the idás cooking frees in your imagination. This is cooking of awesome power.