Keith Boyle is moving fast. A year ago, he was cooking up over a pub in Ballybricken, in the old heart of Waterford. Today, he has a capacious big room on the quays in Waterford, and the reputation Mr Boyle garnered in Ballybricken means the place is filled most nights of the week.
He’s a hungry chef. Hungry for ideas. Hungry for new techniques. He is alive to and obsessed with the joy of cooking, and he pulls like a dog: no effort is too much.
But here’s the thing about Keith Boyle’s cooking: despite the graft, the sweat, the dedication, he’s the most playful cook you will find. He loves games, loves a laugh, loves irony.
Most cooks get serous in the face of plating up, but Keith likes a joke: when he serves you crispy chicken, he’s already rushed down to the nearby Centra to beg some of their chicken-to-go boxes. So, when your chicken arrives at The Bay Tree, it’s in a Centra chicken-to-go box.
It’s a joke, and a good one, and it’s almost as good as the chicken itself. Mr Boyle’s Centra box is like Ferran Adria’s caviar tin, which didn’t contain Beluga. The Bay Tree plays with our expectations – peach with tuna loin?; Bovril-flavoured butter?; cherries with duck?; mushroom broth that looks like a glass of Guinness?; smoked cheese Scotch egg? – and then, exceeds them.
You expect good food from such a dedicated chef, and you get good food, fashioned with a craftsman’s eye, which means that no matter how much he has taken a dish apart, the logic of the flavours are always rock solid, and Mr Boyle always foregrounds those flavours, and maxes his superb ingredients to max effect.
The marvellous thing about The Bay Tree, however, is not just what Mr Boyle has already accomplished. It’s actually the thought of what he is going to accomplish, as his food matures and as the room settles down, that is the really exciting part. He’s only just begun…