It was the night after that day of heavy rain in late November. You may remember much of the island was beset by cloudbursts, followed by blocked drains and swollen rivers breaking their banks. I'd arranged to go to Tankardstown House with Gerard Carthy the previous week, but he couldn't make it. So this was our second attempt and, despite dire warnings on the radio about not driving unless you really had to, we set off for Slane.
ll went really well until we got to the end of the M2 and the N2 began. There were parts of the road that were more like lakes, but intrepid reviewers that we are, we persisted. Once arrived in Slane, we could see the river almost at the top of the bridge, not an arch in sight.
From Slane to Tankardstown, the journey was without problems - whatever water had been on the road was gone and we arrived in Tankardstown in a gentle drizzle. The approach is worth describing, because you drive around a fair piece of perimeter before you hit the restaurant entrance. The most striking feature is the boundary wall, which has been rebuilt by a skilful stonemason. There must be a few miles of it, and I thought, if someone is prepared to do that much work on a boundary wall, they've certainly done plenty on the house and outhouses.
That turned out to be the case. From the car park, you walk through what must have been a stable yard and in front, you can see the main house in the distance and the Brabazon Restaurant in the foreground.
Inside, what was once a cow byre, we were met by a blazing log fire and a warm room, making a literal warm welcome for the two of us. The most striking part of the interior is the stonework and large beams, giving the dining room a lot of character. From where we sat, we could see through a hatch into the kitchen, where a brigade of chefs worked away without so much as a raised voice. For me, that's always a good sign - quiet kitchens tend to be staffed by people who know exactly what they're doing.
Gerard had the advantage that he'd already eaten here before and because of his advice, we went the tasting menu route. Roughly speaking, the à la carte is priced at low teens for the starters, around €30 for mains, and again, low teens for desserts. The tasting menu is five courses and costs €65 per person, but there's a deal here. It so happened this was a Thursday night and on a Thursday night, a tasting menu of five courses is €45 per person. Did we go for that? No, we didn't, we went the Full Monty and ordered the seven-course tasting menu at €65 each.
Once we'd answered the obligatory question "Are you allergic to any foods?", to which we both answered "no", we only needed to sit back and wait for the culinary joys to come, leaving ourselves entirely in the hands of the chef.
So it began with an amuse bouche, served in a small glass jar, of whipped goats' cheese topped with cured salmon. Simple but good, it made an appetite-stimulating beginning to our meal. This was followed by an interesting dish, an egg cooked for 40 minutes at 70 degrees. What you get by this method is a cooked, but runny yolk, and it was served in a bowl of sand, holding the eggshell firmly while we dunked the home made bread into it.
Next to arrive was the charred squid, which came with finely diced chorizo, roasted garlic and charred leaves of little gem lettuce. The charred leaves were new to me, but they're on my list of likes from now on. It gave the leaves a really interesting taste and flavour.
With that flavour still on the palate, the scallops arrived, served with carrageen, coral, sand and seaweed. The coral and the sand that made up the sea shore, were of course edible, and not just edible, actually good to eat.
Then came the move to meats, the first to arrive being the steak tartare. Obviously not a full-size one, but a dainty little one served with pickled shallots and nasturtiums. Too small to be topped with a hen's egg yolk, it worked well without, although I wonder if a quail's egg yolk might have worked.
At this point, you'd think we'd have been flagging, but the portion sizes are very well judged and the whole menu was almost devoid of carbohydrates, so it really wasn't filling.
Hay-smoked duck breast came next, a method of flavouring that's becoming increasingly popular. It was served with salsify, fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and duck jus.
The last dish to come to the table was the crème fraiche soufflé, which came with a delectable blackberry sorbet.
As for drinks, we'd stayed on the sparkling water except for one glass of Chablis for me, which allowed me the old joke 'I dress as I drink - Chablis'. So that, plus a couple of coffees brought the bill to €152.
ON A BUDGET
Probably the best value to be had is the special five-course tasting menu on a Thursday night, which is priced at €45 per person.
ON A BLOWOUT
If you chose the most expensive dish for each course on the à la carte, you'd be spending €59.50, so €65 for seven courses begins to look like a bargain.
THE HIGH POINT
The crème fraiche soufflé was astonishingly good. A great end to a meal.
THE LOW POINT
I noticed that the wine list is fairly heavily marked up. Expect to spend from €35 upwards.
VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
WHISPERS FROM THE GASTRONOMICON
If you happen to live in or near Galway, the g Hotel has come up with a handy solution and created a 'Turkey-to-go' Christmas dinner home-dining experience. Made by the head chef Cedric Bottarlini and his culinary team, you can pick up your Christmas dinner main course, with all the trimmings, any time up until 5pm on December 24. It comes with cooking instructions and all you have to do is reheat your meal, which includes roast turkey stuffed with ham hocks, chestnut and apricot stuffing, gravy, and sides of roast potatoes, carrot and parsnip glacé, brussels sprouts with bacon bits and cranberry sauce. The cost is €20 per person, with a minimum order for six people required. Tel: 091 865 200
CLARIFICATION: In last weeks' review of food demonstrations given by chef Keith Kenny at The Fisherman, South Quay, Wicklow, we inadvertently got the chef's name wrong. We would like to apologise for the error.