Champion contender

THIS is the time of the year when your Kerry friends, many of them beloved cousins, sidle up to your weak shoulder, head bowed but eyes cross-haired on everything that moves, feet flicking at some imagined football.

The cloud over them is almost palpable, the foreboding nearly contagious.

“Ah, shure don’t mind the league,” is the predictable rabhcán Ciarraí.

“That’s winter ploughing, more cross-country running than football. Nothing at all to do with the championship. Last year’s minors aren’t ready. Ó Sé/Spillane/Fitzgerald/Galvin (delete as time deems appropriate) have a lot of diesel burnt and are hardly able for Ulster hard men anymore. And they can’t get ’yer man west off the beer, gone balubaas altogether since she went to Brisbane without telling him she was off with Brosnan from Bonnán. Anyway, the Dubs look as if they will go on for years. Shure, you couldn’t begrudge them, they’ve waited long enough for their turn.”

You’re nodding away, pretending to believe that the cousin believes even a bit of what he’s saying.

Maybe it’s because football seems inordinately important to how Kerry defines itself — almost comparable to the All Blacks and New Zealand, but far more self-deprecating and humorous. It is, strangely, the only field of endeavour in which Kerry people are slow to point to the very obvious talents at work in the Kingdom. Until the middle of September, all going well, that is.

Two Kerry restaurants have been repeatedly championed to me by friends in a way no others elsewhere were. One was Treyvauds — and it more than lived up to its promise. The second is Chapter Forty, also in Killarney. It too matched its reputation.

A quick way to differentiate the two would be to say one uses plates to serve its lovely, classic food, the other uses that simple item — a slate — to present an entirely different kind of food.

Chapter Forty, run by Mark Murphy, Bridget Tangney and chef Simon Regan, is far more adventurous than most restaurants outside the Pale and they are completely at ease with the challenges they set themselves.

Maybe it’s the expertise honed over 20 years in the business or extensive international experience but there aren’t too many restaurants that can mix the delicate and the substantial as effectively as this. Every course showed skill and the kind of subtlety that differentiates good food from mundane.

My usual partner — DW — began with a starter tasting plate. It was top drawer. Jerusalem artichoke soup, duck confit, smoked haddock risotto cake, tuna carpaccio, crumbed oyster, wasabi and braised pork belly, beetroot, trout roe dressing, one element more pleasing than the other. How a restaurant can produce this for €12.50 and stay in business is a mystery. I chose goats cheese baked, nuts, spring roll with fig. Though far simpler than DW’s, it was very good.

For her main course, DW chose carved duck breast with a confit of leg brought together in a crumb coating, just as had been served in her starter, with rhubarb and pickled mushrooms. She enjoyed it.

My main course — simply described as “seafood” on the menu — was a tasting dish of sorts. Various pieces of fish resting on a bed of crab meat, it was excellent and by itself justified the evangelising of the restaurant’s surprisingly diverse fan base.

Desserts were not as impressive and we waited more than an hour to be asked for an order but they were not by any means disappointing. DW chose what was described as apple trifle, pistachios and apple beignets. It was the least impressive plate of the evening. My doughnuts pistachio ice cream and cappuccino mousse was satisfying if not stellar.

We drank Cedro, Chianti Rufina 2007 which has satisfied our curiosity about some Italian wines for the medium term at least.

Kerry need not be as circumspect about Chapter Forty as it usually is about its football prospects, the restaurant is a very real championship contender.

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