The Tannery: 'Flynn's crab crème brûlée is as luscious as we remember'
The Tannery, 10 Quay Street, Abbeyside, Dungarvan, Co Waterford (058) 45420
Later this month, Dungarvan will host the 10th annual West Waterford Festival of Food. It's Ireland's best- attended food festival, and Paul and Máire Flynn have been at the heart of its success ever since it started in 2008. Their Tannery restaurant, which will celebrate its 20th birthday in July, has hosted some memorable festival events over the years, including dinners by guest chefs Angela Hartnett, Fergus Henderson and Robin Gill. (Who could ever forget the pigs' heads gracing each table when the man from St. John came to town?)
This year, the Tannery will put on a Saturday night dinner by Stephen Harris from The Sportsman in Kent - the self-described "grotty rundown pub" last year named the best restaurant in the UK by Restaurant magazine in the National Restaurant Awards - and a pop-up Sunday lunch by Stevie Toman and Alain Kerloc'h from Ox (see feature on page 32).
Because Dublin- centric journalists like me still think that Dungarvan is the four-hour drive from the capital it was 15 years ago, I've only made the trip down at festival time for the past few years. And so, although I've been to the Tannery several times, it's been quite a while since I've eaten Paul Flynn's own food. (The drive is, by the way, now a much more appealing two-and-a-half hours - no excuse.)
As it turns out, Flynn - who is something of a media star these days, thanks to his various television gigs, of which my favourite is Lords & Ladles - is in New York putting on a pop-up for Kerrygold when we arrive in Dungarvan, but he has left the kitchen in the capable charge of his young head chef, Sam Burfield, who came to work at the Tannery two-and-a-half years ago from The Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset.
A while back, the Flynns introduced a wine bar downstairs at the Tannery. There's an attractive and eclectic menu of tapas and small plates put together by New Zealander Suzette Bliss, as well as more substantial dishes. Judging by the buzz, it's a hit that has expanded the restaurant's demographic. We share a portion of bold bone marrow croquettes so deliciously substantial that later we wish we'd had more willpower.
Upstairs, there's a great loft space of a room, with a tall, vaulted ceiling. The staff are young, friendly and well-trained, though casually dressed: jeans and Converse being no impediment to excellent service. There's a good atmosphere in the room.
We started - how could we not? - with Flynn's signature Helvick crab crème brûlée, the dish that he's not ever going to be allowed to take off the menu. It's as lusciously good as we remember it, the note of ginger a subtle counterpart to the ribbons of pickled cucumber on the side. A warm salad of monkfish with boudin noir (blood sausage), cauliflower and tart green apple is impeccable, elevated by sprigs of samphire.
Slow-cooked beef rib with Coolea cauliflower cheese, apple and dukkah is majestic, rich and deeply flavoursome, while confit pork neck with caramelised cauliflower, grapes and spiced black pudding is its luscious equal. The portions are far larger than you would find in the capital, and a dish of sublime buttery mash comes to each table, just in case. We have misguidedly ordered a side of fries - they too are excellent - but we make little inroads on them. (We wish that we had climbed up to nearby Mahon Falls before dinner.) The lightest-sounding of the desserts is poached rhubarb with a yoghurt mousse, jelly and rosewater meringue. It's simple and lovely and right on the money in terms of seasonality.
Paul Flynn was head chef at Nico Ladenis's two-Michelin star Chez Nico in London before returning to Ireland, first to La Stampa and then home to Dungarvan. At the Tannery, he has put together a team of young chefs who are delivering exciting food while still remaining faithful to a clientèle that is fiercely loyal to Flynn's earthy, almost rustic food which prioritises flavour over fashion.
The opening of the Waterford Greenway cycle route from Dungarvan to Waterford this month has brought a new optimism to an area that has seen a drop in visitor numbers in recent years, as a result of the success of the Wild Atlantic Way, which ends in Kinsale. For the first time, says Flynn, on the phone a few days later, people are talking about opening up rather than closing down, and he is optimistic for the future of the Tannery and Dungarvan.
The next morning, we are back at the restaurant for breakfast before hitting the road to Dublin. Poached pears, a mélange of not-too-sweet plums and berries, thick Greek yoghurt, great croissants, gorgeous creamy mushrooms topped with Parmesan on a toasted brioche bun, and as much good cafetière coffee as we can drink.
We visited the Tannery on a 'Spring Break' deal available on its website. Dinner, bed (in the stylish Tannery Townhouse across the road) and breakfast cost €100 per head, with the only additional charges being €4.50 for a side of fries and €39 for a bottle of Paper Road Pinot Noir from New Zealand. Our final bill for two came to €243.50 before service - exceptional value, we thought.
10/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
For a budget-friendly experience of the Tannery, check out its wine bar, which offers small plates and tapas, plus pasta and steak, and a good selection of wines by the glass. Expect to pay about €20 a head for a couple of tapas and a glass of wine.
ON A BLOW-OUT
he seven-course tasting menu is priced at €65.
THE HIGH POINT
Sophisticated yet relaxed, the Tannery is an essential destination restaurant.
THE LOW POINT
That we weren't greedy enough to eat in both the wine bar and the restaurant on the same night.