Restaurant review: A taste of the future

Restaurant review: A taste of the future

Mikey Ryan’s Bar & Kitchen76 Main St, St Dominick’s Abbey,Cashel, Co Tipperary.Tel: 062-62007;

On a bitterly cold February day punctuated with regular and spiteful downpours, Cashel wears the slightly forlorn air of yet another small rural town trying to survive in 21st century Ireland, yet, slap bang in the centre stands a construction crane, an erstwhile indicator of economic wellbeing ever since the heydays of the Celtic Tiger.

These towering beacons signalling prosperity may have returned to major urban centres but it is less usual to find one in the heart of a rural town, especially one struggling to retain its vitality in the face of draining competition from giant multiples and a shopping centre on the outskirts.

It turns out to be the refurbishment of the Cashel Palace Hotel, a gorgeous Queen Anne-style property built in 1730, where former proprietor, Declan ‘Arbutus’ Ryan, earned its Bishop’s Buttery restaurant a Michelin star in the early ’80s. Current owner, billionaire John Magnier, of nearby Coolmore Stud renown, is bankrolling what will be a truly sumptuous prospect, an economic Christmas that can’t come soon enough for the town.

Adrian Bartels (formerly Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, and Sheen Falls, Kenmare) is set to be general manager and has enlisted former Cliff House sous chef Stephen Hayes to head up the kitchen. Hayes also more recently burnished his CV with a year in Restaurant De Librije, (in Zwolle, in Holland; Michelin three-starred/World’s 50 Best Restaurants) and, until the Cashel Palace Hotel opens, the pair are overseeing Mikey Ryan’s, a favourite old local reimagined as a gastropub and eventually set to be the casual dining adjunct to the hotel’s more formal restaurant, linked through the gardens to the rear.

Mikey Ryan’s is a long, narrow zig zag affair, extending far back off the street and plush yet tasteful decor reflects the racing and farming heritage of its Tipperary hinterland.

Our single starter, Beef and Guinness Tart, in a miniature cast iron pan, is delicious tender meat in an umami-rich jus, capped with good puff pastry. No 2 Son and I are still hymning its praises as we refresh with crisp green salad sporting sublimely balanced vinaigrette, almost creamy in its emulsification, although out-of-season imported cherry tomatoes would be better omitted.

No 2 Son’s O’Dwyer’s Premier Burger is a perfectly seasoned patty of minced beef, redolent with fatty flavours and sourced from the very excellent Martin O’Dwyer’s craft butchers in town. It is topped with melted Dubliner cheddar — with the option of a premium upgrade to locally-produced Cashel Blue cheese — and lettuce and red onion.

La Daughter, minimalist as always, has just fried onions and ketchup on hers — it is equally good. Both are flanked by superb triple cooked chips, wonderfully crisp casing, soft, floury hearts, and of sufficient heft to serve as girders on next door’s construction site.

Current Wife justly adores her pan-fried cod, a fine fillet, elementally delivered with baby potatoes, buttered greens and a unifying, creamy beurre blanc sauce, a comfortingly classic dish to insulate mind, body and soul from the foul winter without.

My scampi struggle in comparison to still lingering memories of the offering in And Chips, in Dungarvan, my current benchmark of excellence for this particular dish. Today’s version, though admittedly moreish, features far smaller crustaceans overshadowed by their crisp coating — they are tasty morsels, especially with accompanying greensalad and Marie Rose sauce, but once you’ve known perfection, all else pales.

Both dishes are greatly enhanced by a very pleasant Languedoc chardonnay (Domaine Felines Jourdan 2018) from a cracking wine and drinks list, including Irish craft brews and boutique distillery spirits.

Desserts are old school crowdpleasers all, the perfect prescription for such a day and exceptionally good coffees feature a roast from 3FE, all very much of a piece with excellent sourcing overall, including splendid local Tipperary produce.

The only downside of a wonderful mid-week lunch in this little oasis is having to leave again, for the motorway and home. Unsurprisingly, with Bartels and Hayes in situ, Mikey Ryan’s runs like a dream but it is not unlike tasking a Formula 1 team with the chauffeuring of the family saloon; they’ll certainly get the best out of it but you long to see themoperating on full throttle.

Let’s hope Magnier’s foreman is cracking the whip with those builders next door.

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