Our critic enjoys fine dining without the pitfalls at Tipperary’s buzzy Cashel Palace
It’s been a year since the refurbished Cashel Palace opened its doors, and the Palladian manor is looking very well indeed. From the residents’ bar, there is a fine view of the tastefully floodlit Rock of Cashel. We enjoy pre-dinner margaritas while horsey folk talk over the day’s business.
The Bishop’s Buttery is downstairs, in an elegant and comfortable vaulted space. There’s an unexpectedly buzzy hum in the room, and plenty of younger people, which isn’t always the way in a fancy hotel. It makes for a good atmosphere, and the service is nicely judged, friendly but not overly so, properly professional without being in any way intimidating.
A short three-course table d’hôte menu is priced at €105. Snacks, a pre-dessert and petit fours are all included, so if you’re minded to count, you are actually getting nine courses, plus bread made in-house.
It’s clear we are in fine-dining territory, but though culinary director Stephen Hayes and head chef Darragh O’Flaherty’s cooking is firmly rooted in French classical cuisine, it avoids its pitfalls. There is, thankfully, no dyspepsia-inducing surfeit of butter and cream, and the menu is confident enough not to try too hard. “It is,” Hayes says when I call him to check some details afterwards, “not Nordic at all,” an approach, I suspect, sits well with his customer base. It also means table-side descriptions are relatively concise, always a bonus.
An impeccable sequence of snacks features a little bric pastry cone filled with taramasalata and topped with a soupçon of oscietre, candied yuzu and dill; a perfect gougère of local Crozier Blue with chive emulsion and a miniature nasturtium leaf; a tiny pomme soufflé — two thin circles of potato stuck together and deep-fried until they puff up — with truffled egg purée and a delicate potato tuile; and an oyster with seaweed kombu dashi, pickled cucumber, pickled chilli and dill oil. It’s an assured start, each tasty mouthful confirming we are in good hands.
Tranches of cured foie gras sandwich apple jelly alongside a wedge of brioche toasted in the fat from the foie gras. Pickled rhubarb, smoked eel from Lough Neagh and shaved macadamia nuts cut through the richness and add contrast. On the side, another roll of brioche for good measure. I’d have to say this isn’t strictly necessary, but it is hard to resist.
I’m a sucker for sweetbreads. I order them every time I see them on a menu, which is not often enough. I wish Ireland would embrace offal with greater enthusiasm. Here, they are blanched in a court bouillon, peeled, and coated in flour before being fried in butter and thyme. O’Flaherty tops them with a crumb of puffed barley and wild rice mixed with seeds and roasted pistachios and serves them with caramelised onion purée, caramelised onions, and a white onion veloute poured at the table. The dish needs a smidge of acidity but is otherwise very good.
We choose the two fish main courses. Pan-fried halibut comes with caramelised cauliflower, seared hispi cabbage, a chicken leg confited in duck fat and an intense chicken jus. I love this combination of meat and fish — it brings out the best in both. The kitchen pairs poached black sole with lobster in a squid-ink tortellini, samphire, brown shrimp, butternut squash, lobster crackers and a lobster bisque, and the elements combine in classic harmony.
We follow a cute little egg-shaped pre-dessert of white chocolate and yuzu mousse with a guava centre, with an espresso soufflé — The Buttery’s take on an Irish coffee, served with a whiskey caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. It’s excellent, and the rum pairing of Ron Zacapa 23 suggested by sommelier Farrah Scanlan a creative steer. Cheeses — organic Cashel Blue, Cáis na Tíre, Boyne Valley Bán and Gubbeen — are in perfect condition. We finish with petit fours: a classic vanilla cannelé bordelais, a whiskey sour pâte de fruits and chocolate truffle with juniper ganache.
We drink the 2019 Zull Zweigelt (at €45 one of the cheapest on a list that also includes showstoppers such as a 1939 Cheval Blanc for €9,000 — maybe next time) which works as well with the starters as it does with the fish. The bill, including the pre-dinner margaritas and the rum with the soufflé, comes to €355.85 including 10pc service charge.
Michelin has announced The Bishop’s Buttery will be included in the new edition of its upcoming guide to be released on Monday, March 27. I won’t be surprised if this turns out to be a star. Up Tipp, as they say.
The table d’hôte menu at lunch is €55.
At the chef’s table, the five-course surprise tasting menu with matching wines costs €200pp.
The Bishop’s Buttery, Cashel Palace Hotel, Cashel, Co Tipperary