Sensationally good: Mash @ The Osprey Hotel
The Devoy Quarter, Naas, Co Kildare. Telephone: 045 881 111
Have you ever wondered how we make snap decisions? It's a curious thing -- you take a quick look at something and your brain quickly compares it to previous experiences and you think, 'Oh yes, I know what that is'. And when you say that, you're telling yourself it's just like those other things you remember that look like this.
Sometimes these snap judgements are confirmed, but sometimes they turn out to be wide of the mark.
I've been reviewing restaurants for a while now, and so I have a tendency to walk into a restaurant and think to myself, 'Ah, yes, I know how this will turn out', even before I look at a menu. I get a feel -- partly from how the room is laid out, from the way I've been received or from how the tables are set. And just like any other kind of snap judgement based on experience, it's often right and occasionally very, very wrong.
Part of my snap judgements is also made up of what I've heard previously. I listen when people tell me about their restaurant experiences, I read other reviewers, I browse internet boards. So before I go out to review a restaurant, I have an idea of what to expect.
I tell you all of this, because this week I wanted to go westwards towards Kildare and I'd heard something about The Osprey, a hotel in Naas. I'd heard less about it than usual, so when I arrived there with my son Rocco I had only my first impressions to go on.
It's in a new quarter of Naas, built during the good times. The hotel is new, but it's an attractive building, well designed and architecturally pleasing -- not something I often say about new buildings.
Outside a fountains sprays; a big, gushing fountain rising maybe four metres high. In a way, it's indicative of how The Osprey has been put together -- there's a very evident touch of quality in just about all of it.
One wall of the dining room, which is called Mash, is glass and it overlooks the fountain and the pond that surrounds it. The soothing sound of gushing water is easily heard in the dining room. We were shown to a table next to a window and got the menus. My first sight of them had me thinking, 'Two courses for €27.50 or three for €32.50? That's steep for a set menu'. But then, as I've said, first impressions can be wrong.
Rocco and I found ourselves looking at a well-thought-out and interesting set menu with five starters, five main courses and five desserts. We also had the à la carte to look at, so we decided that Rocco would choose from the à la carte and I'd eat from the set menu.
As we compared the menus, it became clear that the set menu isn't just a dumping ground for cheap dishes; most of dishes on it are exactly the same as the ones on the à la carte.
Rocco chose the king scallops to start and followed that with line-caught sea bass -- although he was very tempted by the Finnebrogue venison -- because none of those dishes were on the set menu. I was torn between a pork and Parmesan sausage and a duck-liver parfait, but eventually settled on the smoked salmon, leek and cream-cheese roulade as my starter, followed by the roasted pork fillet wrapped in Parma ham.
Rocco had done his usual deal with me over the driving -- he'd drive me to Naas, but then I'd have to drive home. This cunningly allowed him to scan the wine list and select a half-bottle of Sancerre at €17 to go with his fish choices. As ever, I was stuck with the sparkling water.
The first thing that arrived at the table was a bowl of delicious and still-hot breads -- tomato, walnut and plain. These were clearly made in the kitchen and were the work of a good baker. Next we got an amuse bouche each with the chef's compliments. In case you think this was a little bribe for me, everyone else in the restaurant got one as well.
The starters arrived and they were quite simply excellent. It was already clear to me that the attention to detail in this kitchen is well above average, judging only by the amuse bouche and the starter. The scallops were perfectly cooked and presented well on the plate, and the salmon roulade was exquisitely balanced. Two five-star starters.
I wasn't expecting the next course, a sorbet. It was beautifully presented on a dish made of ice, in which a few strawberries had been frozen. So included in the price of the set menu are two more dishes -- you get four dishes for the price of two. Suddenly my first impressions over the pricing were starting to look very wrong indeed.
The quality and the attention to detail didn't falter for the main courses; once again the kitchen produced two really excellent dishes. Rocco's sea bass was cooked to perfection, my pork fillet was moist and tasty, and all the accompanying vegetables had been stir-fried for extra taste. There was attention to detail for every element on our plates, the sort of care you normally only find in restaurants that sport a Michelin star.
By the time we'd finished these four courses we both felt totally replete, Rocco insisting that he really couldn't eat another thing. I argued that not being hungry was no excuse for not investigating what this excellent kitchen could do for desserts.
We had to find out, so we ordered the baked chocolate and orange cheesecake. It was sensationally good, so good that, grudgingly, my son started to pick at it with his fork, eventually succumbing and eating nearly half of it.
Not only had the food and service been top quality, but the espressos were also very good. Rocco finished up with a Midnight Experience: two shots of Baileys, two shots of espresso and a shot of vodka. I tasted it and I have to say it was a winner. This outstanding meal cost €112.
VALUE FOR MONEY 9/10
ON A BUDGET
Go for the set menu and take the two-course option. You'll get four courses and you’ll be very well fed. The wine list is very fairly priced with lots of wine in the €20-€30 bracket as well as some upper-end wines for the big spenders. All the house wines are €21 a bottle.
ON A BLOWOUT
You can spend more on the à la carte, but the value is just the same. Start with the king scallops at €12.50, then follow with either the Finnebrogue venison at €29.50 or the aged Angus fillet at €32. On a blow-out, I’d go for the Moët et Chandon Brut Impérial 2000 for a round €100.