From French provincial cooking to experimental twenty-first century flamboyance in two starter dishes. That’s what chef Paul Cullen pulls off in Kilkenny’s funky-as-all-get-out Rive Gauche restaurant.
The French provincial bit is an Escoffier-type take on coquilles St Jacques, a dreamy delight of scallops baked with cream, Gruyere and pieces of crispy bacon, ringed with duchesse potatoes. It’s a classic dish from the century before last, and Mr Cullen delivers it perfectly.
The experimental blast is the brilliantly deconstructed prawn cocktail. This time, the meld of cocktail comes in a little seafood can, an echo of the way Ferran Adria used to serve his mango drop caviar in El Bulli. It’s a brilliant touch, and the prawn is as good as the sourdough bread that comes with it, the bread the work of pastry chef Eoin Jenkinson
And the creative touches don’t end with the starters. Mr Cullen fashions the very unusual concept of a vegetable risotto wellington, with the rice enclosed in pastry. And he gets all modernist with his lamb offering, cooking the lamb shoulder slowly for 14 hours, then serving it with straight-ahead pancetta peas, champ and nice gingered turnip. This is lively and intelligent cooking, and a pudding of blackcurrant posset, with Earl Grey tea meringues and lemon poppy cake, again shows just how much effort the team put into each dish.
The room itself is a phantasmagoria straight out of Tim Burton, a collector’s jamboree of objets d’art, paintings, fixtures and fitting culled from all over the globe. Manager Peter Brady runs this eclectic zoo of food, wine, cocktails, artworks and whatnot with a calm and relaxing mien, and at certain moments, you need only close your eyes, then open them slowly, to believe you are in fin de siecle Paris. Rive Gauche is big fun.
And do note, this kitchen is also the team behind the lunch offer in adjacent building and business the Left Bank. It all adds up to a culinary as well as bricks and mortar landmark in central Kilkenny.
2 The Parade, Kilkenny 056 777 5604 rivegauchekk.com