Saturday 18 January 2020

Refuel: Cliff House * * *

Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Tel: 024 87800

Aingeala Flannery

It's never easy to kill off a character. Ui Rathaile was going to prove especially tricky. If he was to plot his own demise, he'd be shot in a bog, or trampled by startled horses in a storm. He wouldn't go quietly, that's for sure. Murderous intent is no basis for romance, albeit mutual. But after he threatened to take me to the forest at Dromana and unleash six hungry badgers on me, I knew there was no time to dally. Ui Rathaile had to die, and he had to die that day.

We'd been holed up in West Waterford for a week, living on blaas from Barron's bakery, blocks of Knockanore and cheap Côtes du Rhône. I used our repetitive diet as an excuse to head for the Cliff House. We'd have a lunch, followed by a fatal stroll along the pilgrim's cliff walk and a prayer for forgiveness at St Declan's Well.

Ui Rathaile had never heard of the Cliff House and in case you haven't either, here's the deal: it's an exclusive hotel built into the cliff overlooking Ardmore Bay. In January, its restaurant was awarded a Michelin star, making it impossible to get a table at short notice. The restaurant is only open for dinner, but lunch is served all day in the bar, which was good enough for me and more than Ui Rathaile deserved.

We snagged a table on the veranda overlooking the sea. I began feeding him thick slabs of brown bread, loaded with butter -- to weigh him down -- and encouraged him to start with the roast tomato soup. He resisted and chose smoked salmon and asparagus instead.

For €9.50, it was a meagre affair. Yes, the salmon was opaque and delicious, but two slivers of it was a tease. The same goes for the pungent, al dente asparagus that amounted to a pair of skinny spears. The substance of the dish came from a slick, perfectly composed egg mayonnaise salad. No criticism of the food, just of the portion and, by extension, the cost.

The starter that attracted me the most was the potted monkfish, but I wanted fish for my main course, so I ordered the Caesar salad. With the one I recently ate in Brown Thomas as my benchmark, I got stuck into the Cliff House version, and found it paled by comparison. The dressing was insipid, and the chicken had the smooth texture and mysterious blandness of ersatz vegetarian meat. I took solace in the two halves of a perfectly timed boiled egg, and a shower of crispy pancetta.

Ui Rathaile ordered steak for his main course -- 10 dense, meaty ounces of Black Angus. It came with a dollop of mushroom tapenade and pepper sauce. It was a supreme piece of meat, slightly more medium than it was rare, but with steak of this quality that hardly matters. The dark, musky flavours of the tapenade married well with it and if I wasn't trying to fatten him up, I'd have wrestled more than a morsel from Ui Rathaile's plate.

My fillet of Helvick cod was precisely cooked to come apart in giant, immaculate chunks. It had a moistness and freshness so rare, you need experience it to realise that, until now, you've been denied it. It came with a coating of zest and was marooned in a puddle of lemon butter.

We shared a bowl of very good, very buttery champ and a side of vegetables: vibrant crunchy sugar snap and green beans, which does fine as house veg, if you like legumes.

We rounded off with a dark chocolate tart -- finished with whiskey and candied orange to slice through its bitter heart. A killer dessert, and the most reasonably priced item on our bill (€7.50). Cappuccino, in a dainty cup, costs €4.50. With a glass of Trefili pinot grigio, and another of Bergerie de la Bastide blanc, our bill came to more than €100 -- an absurd amount. I vented my outrage as we walked along the cliff top. Ui Rathaile responded by slapping my backside and telling me to "get over it".

That was all the provocation I needed. I swung around, but where I expected to find him, there was nothing; just a long, mucky skid. By the time I got back to the Cliff House car park, I was a paragon of panic-stricken grief, and I struggled to dial 999.

That was when I saw him, leaning casually against the car door, smoking. He covered my open mouth with a dirty, wet kiss. You won't get rid of me that easily, he said.

TYPICAL DISH: Helvick cod


THE DAMAGE: €105.75 for two starters, two mains, one dessert, two coffees and two glasses of wine.


AT THE TABLE: Tourists

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