Restaurant review: The Cliff House in Waterford is a tip-top delight

You have to try the lemon verbena and Highbank Orchard infused apple sorbet
Restaurant review: The Cliff House in Waterford is a tip-top delight

One of the delicious dishes at The Cliff House Hotel. Pictures: Anita Murphy

Having left Ireland almost a decade ago as a talented ‘apprentice’, chef Ian Doyle was finally returning as ‘Master’. A four-year stint as head chef at Michelin two-starred Oaxen Krog, in Stockholm, just ended, he was now newly installed executive head chef at The Cliff House, formerly the fiefdom of Michelin-starred Dutchman Martijn Kajuiter.

But Doyle arrived with The Covid in his slipstream. Even as he took first bearings, the global hospitality sector closed down and he entered a dark kitchen. He’s weathered four lockdowns since, compounded by acute industry-wide acute staffing shortages — and let’s not even mention the impact of other pandemic/Brexit-related shenanigans.

Restaurants reopened in June 2020, stuttering and stumbling through a ‘season’ that finally expired with the lockdown of January ’21, yet that short window of opportunity was sufficient for Doyle to retain House Restaurant’s Michelin star — a Herculean achievement under the circumstances.

Current Wife raises a sceptical brow at the tiny knotted finger of carrot on a stone, topped with seaweed paste and nutty crispy barley and dainty leaves and flowers of marigold, chamomile, beach verbena and oxalis. Her brows arches higher again, listening to the description of the intricate and extended culinary process rendered on said carrot.

Then she pops it into her mouth and cynicism dissolves for it has all the soft chaw and sugary heft of a gummy candy, only shy an anise element to earn a starring role as a premium liquorice allsort; meanwhile, the other flavours shimmy in the background.

It is the best of three cracking ‘snacks’, along with the briny hit of clam and pickled Comeragh Mountain chard and a bolshy potato crisp with smoked cod roe and green strawberry.

Next, is a translucent ribbon of gently toothsome squid with celery and fulsome langoustine broth. Dungarvan Stout Bread is more treacly cake than bread, a soft, spongy platform for the salty, lactic tang of in-house cultured butter.

Raw Langoustine, Sorrel, Gooseberries & Gin Sauce sees crustacean briefly brined until proteins surrender, dissolving into a silken, creamy mouthful of ocean. A sauce of spruce vinegar, oil, Blackwater Gin and gooseberry juice braces this idle dissolution, while nutty puffed buckwheat implodes with a cheerful crunch, the entirety girdled by savoury marine umami of fried nori and grated cod roe.

Ever welcome razor clams are a delight with mussel puree and cream of tagetes (Marigold family), shallots and mussels while the velvety ‘flesh’ of Maitake (Hen of the Woods) mushroom bathes in the ‘beefy’ umami of fermented turnip and potato tea. Burnished, carmelised scallop is scored in criss-cross fashion and pan-fried in butter to plump, wobbling perfection, served with plush sauce of oysters and sweet carrot, topped with crisp fried nori, dried scallop roe, and pickled three-cornered leek and mashua leaf.

It is the comparative simplicity of sublime pan-fried monkfish, Ardmore potatoes and duck egg hollandaise that finally untethers CW, sending her astral-planing above the table in ecstasy. ‘Why can’t you cook like this?’ she hisses — and that’s the PG version.

Vermillion venison is laden with carnivorous potency but is near as tender as the earlier scallop; winter chanterelles and parsnip are respectful and complementary partners.

The initial decorum of lemon verbena and Highbank Orchard infused apple sorbet is suddenly exploded by earthy, rich sugars of honeyed oats and celeriac caramel buried underneath and is the pick of three sweet closing dishes.

Service is excellent and sommelier/manager Alexandra Raitaneva’s wine and beverage pairings are considered, innovative (Bertha’s Revenge gin & tomato water cockail with the squid) and even locally sourced (Stonewell’s Vintage ‘Tawny’ Cider). The dining room decor, however, is beginning to look very tired and dated, especially when magnificent sea views disappear into wintery darkness and attentions return to more immediate surroundings.

This is the third time I’ve eaten Doyle’s food since he arrived in Ardmore and it is the best meal to date. He works with the precision of a watchmaker, assembling and layering multiple elements into whole dishes. I wouldn’t mind seeing a little less ‘Swiss watch’, a bit more ‘sundial’, exchanging some ‘moving parts’ for a more elemental simplicity, all to achieve the same end result; but that’s not criticism, just my personal preference.

Either way, he is transmuting superb primary ingredients, taking even the most modest, demure base materials and delivering them all as robust, even rambunctiously delicious dishes with real punch and potency of flavour — give the man a proper run at it, a few full and uninterrupted seasons and this already very good chef will truly come into his own.

The House Restaurant at The Cliff House

Middle Road, Ardmore, Co Waterford

Tel. +353 24 87800

cliffhousehotel.ie

Opening Hours: Tues to Saturday (two sittings)

The Verdict

  • Food: 9
  • Service: 8.5
  • Value: 8.5
  • Atmosphere: 7 (11 before sundown!)
  • Tab: Sharing menu €130 pp; Wine pairing €85

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