Secret ingredients in recipe for excellence
THE Michelin stars are out again, adding a twinkle to our best restaurants. This year, two new stars have been added to Ireland's constellation, and they're both in Kilkenny.
One is in Kilkenny city and is called Campagne, and the other is the Lady Helen, the restaurant at Mount Juliet, Thomastown.
It's worth asking what makes a restaurant star-worthy?
There are nine restaurants in Ireland with stars, and all of them deserve the accolade.
I'm convinced that the most important thing for a restaurant is consistency.
It's also one of the hardest things to achieve, because a restaurant kitchen isn't automated, it's manned by people who can occasionally cock things up. So keeping up standards is a continual struggle.
So why did the Kilkenny pair get a star? I've reviewed both restaurants and agree that they deserve it.
The Lady Helen is simply a beautiful room in a beautiful hotel, with a beautiful view of the River Nore.
Add to that list of "beautifuls" good food that is beautifully presented with excellent service and you can see why the Michelin inspectors would be impressed.
The kitchens are overseen by executive chef Cormac Rowe, who has also been awarded three rosettes by the 'AA Guide'.
Campagne, on the other hand, relies more on the quality of the food than it does on its surroundings. It's an attractive dining room, but it doesn't compare with the Georgian opulence of Mount Juliet. However, chef-proprietor Garrett Byrne is a very fine chef.
I first came across his work in Bruno's of Kildare Street, where his cooking wowed me.
Then he went to Chapter One, where he worked with Ross Lewis for many years, earning a Michelin star there before opening Campagne.
With a pedigree like that, a star comes as no surprise; you could argue that the surprise is the star was slow in coming.
Looking down the guide's new entries, I found myself nodding in agreement, especially with the awards of the Bib Gourmand, which goes to restaurants that offer good food at reasonable prices.
In Dublin's city centre, the awards went to the Pig's Ear, Stephen McAllister's restaurant in Nassau Street, and Pichet in Trinity Street with Stephen Gibson at the helm. In the north city, the awards went to Downstairs in Clontarf and the Brasserie at Malahide's Bon Appetit.
Outside of Dublin, awards went to Deasy's in Clonakilty, Co Cork; Sha Roe Bistro in Clonegal, Co Carlow; the Chart House in Dingle, Co Kerry; the Courthouse in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan; Aldridge Lodge in Duncannon, Co Wexford; Fishy Fishy Cafe in Kinsale, Co Cork; and the Wild Honey Inn in Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare. I've reviewed all but two of these, and I agree with the Red Guide, good places all.
I'm left, though, with a puzzle. When I ate in the Greenhouse in Dublin's Dawson Street, I had a meal that was of Michelin Star standard, as were two meals in Residence on St Stephen's Green.
So why has the Red Guide chosen to ignore them?