The first weekend in October has assumed sacrosanct status in the culinary calendar, as the Irish food world gathers for the annual Dingle Food Festival and Blas na hÉireann awards, a class of epicurean equinoctial solstice marking the end of the year’s festival circuit with one last blowout in the magical West Kerry town.
The streets are absolutely heaving over what locals call, ‘the best weekend of the year in Dingle,’ and each corner, nook and cranny presents an opportunity to put on the nosebag and, while I still lament the loss of the late, great Idá’s, new arrivals are easing the sting of its departure.
We kick off our weekend with a fine meal in Solas and, mere days before we hit town, an even newer restaurant, Land to Sea (LtoS), had just been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand. It is a superb achievement in their maiden season, so I am amazed to procure a Sunday night booking on what has become a de-facto ‘bank holiday weekend’ for locals and and visitors alike, Monday only fit for picking up the pieces after the mother of all parties.
Chef/proprietor Julian Wyatt was born in England to north Cork parents and, despite a peripatetic childhood, including several years in France, all holidays were spent in Ireland. By the time he was 16, Wyatt came ‘home’ for good, starting in William O’Callaghan’s esteemed Longueville House kitchen, outside Mallow. His CV since has been an exercise in culinary development and self-improvement, including a Damascene decision to return to France to further hone skills, where he also met wife/co-proprietor, Katia.
First impressions are of a bright, fresh, pleasant space: wooden floors, grey wood panelling, white-painted stone walls, sporting a series of land and seascapes. This muted elegance is echoed on the Seafood Appetiser plate of fresh Dingle crab, home-smoked salmon, Glenbeigh Mussels and a Cromane oyster, with Wyatt sensible enough to allow quality produce do the heavy lifting.
The charcuterie plate is of a different order for Wyatt produces the entirety in-house: sweet, silky ham, a gossamer shaving from dry-cured loin; saucisson sec, sublimely balanced, lightly graced with fennel; chorizo, sweet, peppery, but never overstated; pork brawn, creamy and succulent; wild rabbit & black trumpet mushroom terrine, an earthy collision of gamey meat and forest floor; house-pickled carrots and gherkins, mustard mayonnaise and squid ink cracker complete the best charcuterie plate I’ve had in an Irish restaurant.
Unsurprisingly, my next choice is vegetarian: butternut squash and Cashel Blue pithivier, deeply comforting and entirely suited to girding a body for the dark, dirty dregs of autumn as it slides irrevocably into full-on winter. Only bracing bitterness of crisp white dandelion salad prevents me drifting into the most blissful of soporific stupors.
No 2 son, ever-conscious of his future role as internationally-renowned sporting superstar, will plump for steak any time he can get one and adores his fine aged Irish Hereford striploin steak with chanterelle mushroom sauce.
Current wife’s John Dory with roasted lemon and caper Butter exemplifies the LtoS modus operandi: excellent produce, superbly cooked, but with deceptive simplicity; it takes skill, knowledge, experience and culinary empathy to produce such balanced blending of texture and flavour, such wonderfully tasty food.
We order all four sides (Lemon pepper roasted baby potatoes, hand cut chips, tender stem broccoli and mixed leaf salad), again, good produce, superbly handled but, so ridiculously cheap at €3.50 a pop, I wonder if they are clearing their margins.
After a weekend of excess, I look on benignly as progeny made of sterner stuff mill into good chocolate fondant and homemade ice creams.
L’Auratae Nero D’Avola 2018, fresh and fruity, is easy drinking, found in the middle of a concise if eccentric wine list: reds, mostly French, kick off with a Burgundy (Mommessin Pinot Noir, just €30), arriving, 14 wines later — also including Kinsale-produced Thomas Walk Vineyard Velvet — at a vintage €600 Margaux (1969), a rather ‘flamboyant’ concluding bottle for a such a non-showy restaurant.
Bizarre, maybe, but it is a heartfelt list of personal favourites to match excellent food delivered with earnest, utterly heartwarming sincerity and an honesty of endeavour that is palpable. Long may it remain so, as yet another glorious reason to pack bib and tucker for Dingle.
€186 (including dishes not mentioned, drinks, wine, coffees; excluding tip)
How to: Everyday, 5pm-9.30pm (closed over winter)
Wine list: 7.5/10 (good wines but choice restricted by price)