Spoiled by choice at The Yard
The Yard, 3 Lwr Georges St, Wexford. (051) 914-4083
There's plenty to like about The Yard in Wexford Town. There's the location, right in the centre of things, and the charming courtyard garden that you walk through on the way in. On a fine evening, it must be a good place to sit and put the world to rights over a bottle of chilled white.
There's the Little Yard, around the corner, which serves a tapas menu that sounds promising and was buzzing as we passed en route from early dinner in The Yard proper. There's the fact that The Yard has its own organic vegetable garden, which supplies produce to the restaurant. (They should make more of this on the menu.)
There are the staff, who were engaged and welcoming and unfazed by our request to abandon the table to which we had been assigned and move elsewhere. In fairness, it was a busy Saturday night and we had booked late, but the table we were given first was definitely the worst in the house, at the far end of the main dining room by the stairs. It was no trouble to move us to the attractive bar area, about which there must be some history. It looks authentically old, with an ancient wooden counter and embossed tin walls.
Yes, the staff was excellent, from the manager-type who found us our new table, to the waitress who served us, to the woman I'm assuming was one of the owners, and who bade us a friendly farewell. Despite the fact that there was a large party of hens in the house, they were cheery and unhassled.
We were worried by the menu, though. Breadth of range may be a good thing in some circumstances, but on a restaurant menu it sends shivers down my spine. There aren't many chefs who can deliver successfully across the panoply of international cuisines at once, and the offering here seemed to be attempting too much. Good chefs may be able to turn their hand to anything, but not to everything.
As we were eating before 7pm, we decided that one of us should try out the early bird menu. And instead of going the traditional starter and main route, I opted for three starters from the à la carte, as they sounded like the most interesting dishes on the menu.
From the early bird (€22.95 for two courses, €25.95 for three) we chose a warm Jaipur chicken salad, described as 'Cos lettuce with chickpeas, melon, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and red onion drizzled with coriander yoghurt and topped with poppadom straws'. If you think that sounds like an awful lot of ingredients, then you'd be right. It's the kind of thing that you might throw together at home if you had leftovers from an Indian takeaway and, while not awful, did not merit a place on a restaurant menu. The melon struck a bum note and there was too much raw red onion, an ingredient that kept cropping up in other dishes as the meal progressed.
Steak frites with garlic butter was our choice of main course from the early bird options. There was a €3 supplement for this. The 8oz sirloin was a tasty piece of meat and cooked medium rare as requested, but the 'seasonal salad' that accompanied it was limp Lollo Rosso with more raw onion and a few random bits and pieces, and the fat chips were woefully undercooked. A side of over-cooked stir-fried vegetables did nothing to enhance the dish; it reminded us of a desultory Monday night supper.
From the starter section of the à la carte menu, Kilmore crab cakes came with a dill, apple and mint slaw, and aioli, tasted super-fresh and boasted a generous crab-to-filler ratio. Thumbs up. Wexford scallops were paired with braised brisket and accompanied by a cauliflower and potato purée, caramelised shallots and a caper jus. At €11.95 this was the priciest of the starters on offer, but also the one that convinced us that there was ambition in the kitchen. The meat and shellfish combination was a good one, the richness of the slow-cooked brisket and the sweet scallops a fine pairing, and the capers a winning touch. Unfortunately, another intriguing starter option - Bannow Bay mussels and crumbled chorizo in a Jack Doyle Pale Ale and Okahijiki Cream - was bland and disappointing, the sauce tasting of nothing but cream, although the mussels themselves were fresh and plump. (I had to look up Okahijiki afterwards. It turns out that it's a land seaweed that grows wild in Japan's salt marshes but can be cultivated; it's a pity that its flavour could not be detected in the dish as it would have enhanced it.)
We drank a bottle of the organic 2012 Emiliana 'Eco' Pinot Noir from Chile priced at €30.50, and, without dessert, our bill came to €88.30 before service.
The Yard has plenty going for it, and with a big dining room to fill, it obviously has to cater to a wide audience, including hen parties. But the menu is attempting to cover too many bases, and the talent in the kitchen is suffering as a result.
On a budget
The two-course early bird is €22.95. Cheaper options at the Little Yard.
On a blowout
A pork belly and noodle starter, followed by surf and turf fillet steak and tiger prawns, with sides of fat chips and crispy greens, and chocolate Coca Cola cake to finish, would cost €52.70 before wine.
The high point
Great staff, and that braised brisket and scallop dish. Good provenance information on the website.
The low point
An over-cooked Asian stir-fry that appeared to be the default vegetable side dish. As The Yard is growing its own, where were the simple steamed seasonal vegetables tossed in a little butter?
6/10 value for money
Whispers from the gastronomicon
At a private lunch in a beautiful garden just outside Wexford, the event catering team from Westgate Design - the Jordan family's popular shop and daytime restaurant in the town - played a blinder. Gorgeous local seafood, terrific pizzas (none of your boring old margheritas) cooked in the hosts' wood-fired oven, and simple, vibrant salads made for a stylish summer celebration. Puddings were outstanding, as were the unflappable and charming staff. A celebration to remember.