Paolo Tullio: Touches of excellence
Being a fully paid-up member of the Craft club -- that's the Can't Remember A Fupping Thing club -- has its drawbacks. This week, it got me into a panic. It happened like this: I'd arranged with Marian Kenny to meet her friend John Mawer and his daughter Theresa somewhere around Mullingar, and John would choose the venue. I got a message to say that we'd meet and dine in Multyfarnham, not far from Mullingar, which sounded good to me.
Time passed, the day of our dinner arrived, and I was talking to Ernie Whalley. "Where are you going tonight?" he asked me. "Multyfarnham," I answered. "Ah, yes, going to Weirs?" And that's when the memory kicked in. I reviewed Weirs with Tom Doorley a couple of years ago. And then the panic set in. What if Weirs was the destination? I couldn't review it again. We'd need to find somewhere else at short notice. I mean, how many restaurants could there be in Multyfarnham?
Turns out the answer to that question is two. After a couple of panicky phone calls, I learned that down the hill and across the road from Weirs is An Tintain, which is where John had booked us a table.
I allowed an hour and a half to get to Multyfarnham from Dalkey, but the motorway got us there in one hour and five minutes, so we were a tad early. It gave us time to have a good look at the menus and wine list before John and Theresa arrived. An Tintain is alongside an old forge, and the dining room had a kind of cottagey feel to it with its plain tables and chairs. Workable glassware and crockery brought old-fashioned tea-rooms to mind, a perception quickly dispelled by the menus, of which there were two.
There was the weekly dinner menu, which offered two courses for €20 and three for €25, and there was the set dinner menu, which offered two courses for €30 and three for €35. The cheaper menu had a lot fewer choices, but still managed four starters, four main courses and four desserts.
The menu listings looked rather good and I was thinking that it would be great if the menu delivered what it promised, when three different breads and a brioche were brought to the table. Something seems to be happening in the restaurant business when it comes to bread -- I think I've been handed more good breads in the past few months than I have in more than 30 years.
Suddenly, really good breads are coming to the table and the ones in An Tintain were truly superb. Marian was enthusing over the brioche, and I was enthralled by the yellow honey and mustard bread when John and Theresa arrived.
The first task was to find a wine, so I passed the wine list to Theresa. It was a list of about 40 wines, all fairly priced and all quite mainstream.
After a little consultation, we settled on an Argentinian Malbec called Don David for €26. A two-litre bottle of sparkling water, the first I've seen in a restaurant, was €6, or €3 a litre. Much better value than the usual €4.50 for a three-quarter litre.
With four people choosing, it was easier to get a good idea of what the chef was capable of. We'd already learned the chef was expert with breads, so now we chose across the menu.
We started with fried goats' cheese on a bed of leaves with Cumberland sauce; tiger prawns layered with aubergine and served with a Chablis and mushroom sauce; a tower of flat mushrooms, beef tomatoes and mozzarella, and steamed mussels marinière. The starters were all good, but the sauce on the mussels was star quality, truly delicious.
For main courses, we once again all chose something different -- sea bass fillet with mussels, coq au vin (spelled van on the menu), breast of Barbary duck with a sweet chilli butter and, lastly, a trio of suckling pig.
When they arrived, the first thing we noticed was the unusual presentation. Both the chicken dish and the pork trio had a wafer cone stuck into the mash: the one with the chicken had the mushroom and shallot inside; the smaller one with the pork dish was filled with apple sauce.
The sea bass was laid on top of the mash base and surrounded with mussels, and the breast of duck was served simply sliced on mash.
This last looked the least appealing of the dishes and turned out to be the least successful of them; the duck a long way from pink and more than a little tough. The other three dishes, however, had touches of excellence to them. John, who is in the poultry business, had the corn-fed chicken in front of him and declared it to be one of the tastiest chickens he'd eaten. I thought that the pork trio dish was very well done: a small cutlet, a slice of saddle and braised belly with sage and apple jus.
All except for me went for dessert -- a warm apple streusel tart with rum-and-raisin ice cream, a vanilla-scented crème brûlée, and profiteroles. It would take a big appetite to finish two courses with the apple tart -- it was big and generous, and looked good on the plate too. The crème brûlée was nicely done, and the crème pâtissière in the profiteroles instead of cream was a great touch.
We finished the meal with two cups of tea and an espresso for me, which brought the bill to €177.80 without service charge. I thought that we'd eaten well and some elements were truly excellent. It says a lot for how far gastronomy has come in Ireland when a small town like Multyfarnham can boast two good restaurants.