It begins with a little potted wild rabbit accompanied by a soupçon of celeriac remoulade. We know immediately that we are in good hands, that the trip to Cabinteely has been worth it. There is intensity of flavour from the rabbit, the remoulade is delicate, mustardy, and the grilled sourdough that accompanies it is sensational. The char that comes from griddling adds an extra dimension that you never get from toast. The combination of these three elements is just perfect, and the presentation is a delight. The glass of Hommage du Rhone, 2013, Rasteau, gutsy and spicy, is a great partner.
And things just keep getting better.
On the recommendation of a fellow food critic, who told me that she had one of her best meals of the year here, we've come to Wildeside Café for a special game-based tasting menu, served with matching wines.
The chef is Alan O'Reilly, who has form when it comes to game - in fact, he has form when it comes to food, full stop - and it's clear from the outset that we are in for a treat.
There's nothing special about the interior of Wildeside. The tables and chairs are modest, there are no white linen tablecloths and the napkins are disposable. There's a good atmosphere, though, with Alan's brother, Robert, in charge of front of house and a genuine sense of hospitality from the staff. Later our waitress tells us that she gets to try the food, which is less common than it should be but a good sign. Many restaurants don't ever allow their staff to eat what's on the menu - serving up a staff meal made from whatever ingredients need to be used up - which begs the question as to how they can be expected to describe the food to the customers.
O'Reilly is probably best known from his time at the successful Alexis in Dun Laoghaire, which he ran with another brother, Patrick, until it closed in 2013. When Alexis opened, it was definitely the most exciting thing to have happened in Dun Laoghaire for years (I should know, I used to live nearby) and the brothers had a good run of it, serving excellent, good-value, bistro-style food until they were scuppered by the recession like so many others. Long before Alexis, O'Reilly had Clarets in Blackrock and Morels over the Eagle House in Glasthule - the space now occupied by Rasam. After Alexis there was another incarnation of Morels in the same Patrick Street premises.
I ate in each one of these establishments over the years and don't recall ever being disappointed with the food, but the meal that we ate in Wildeside last week was the best of the lot.
The second course on our tasting menu is described as wood pigeon with girolle mushrooms and red wine, but there's way more going on, with tiny silver-skin onions and shards of crisp, deep-fried chicken skin that bring flavour and texture and elevate the dish beautifully. The pigeon is pink and tender, sitting atop a fermented potato bread - rewena paraoa, a Maori recipe from New Zealand, introduced by one of O'Reilly's sous chefs - that adds tang and substance. It's a brilliant dish. The wine that accompanies it is another substantial red: Alana Corcia Cuvee Prestige 2104, Gigondas.
And then there's another winner. Roast quail and salted goose liver, it says on the menu, but that's only the half of it. The breast is served on top of the rich liver, and the tiny leg is stuffed with herbs. There's a fried quail's egg set inside a round of white bread, a purée of cauliflower, and a sticky jus. The rich white Chateau de Davenay Rabourees, Rully Ier Cru that we drink with it is luscious.
Roast loin of fallow deer is the final savoury course and, for me, the least exciting, although my only actual quibble is that the kale element is too heavily salted. The venison is, again, perfectly executed, paired with autumnal celeriac and carrot. It comes with our favourite wine of the evening, a dry, elegant pinot noir, 2011 Domaine Voarick Les Vignes Blanches, Mercurey.
We have eaten so well that really there is no room for dessert, but it would be a shame not even to sample the chocolate mousse topped with a white chocolate froth, the dark chocolate tart and a house-made caramel ice-cream with a salted caramel and vanilla crumb. Each is faultless, enhanced by the 2013 Chateau Castel la Peze, Monbazillac.
"We're like dinosaurs here," says O'Reilly, when he stops by each of the tables for a quick chat at the end of meal, and we have an opportunity to compliment him on the incredible food that we've had. "We don't cook sous-vide, we just use pots and pans."
With a large bottle of water and two extra glasses of pinot noir, our bill came to €119 before service. The €50 tasting menu includes six half-glasses of excellent, carefully-chosen wine (there was a glass of Crement d'Alsace at the beginning). This is exceptional value for food that would not be out of place in one of Ireland's Michelin-starred restaurants. The special tasting menu, with matching wines, is available throughout game season. Do yourself a favour, and beat a path to Cabinteely.
ON A BUDGET
The two-course dinner menu costs €23.50.
ON A BLOW OUT
The five-course tasting menu with matching wines is €50 a head.
THE HIGH POINT
Exceptional food in an unexpected location. Alan O'Reilly's cooking is on a par with the very best that you'll find anywhere in the country.
THE LOW POINT
The oddly-shaped long and fussy plates used to serve the wild rabbit and the dessert. I'm not a fan of anything other than round. (See how I'm scraping the barrel to say anything bad about this place?)
10/10 value for money