Restaurant review: Does Terre at Castlemartyr Resort live up to the hype?

Terre is a standalone restaurant sited in the ‘old house’ conceived with the highly ambitious aim of achieving two Michelin stars at the first time of asking and chef-patron Vincent Crepel is the man charged with doing so
Restaurant review: Does Terre at Castlemartyr Resort live up to the hype?

Castlemartyr Resort was the near-perfect metaphor for the hubristic rise and subsequent implosion of the Celtic Tiger empire, an ultra-glamorous €70m opening in 2007/08 just as the global markets suddenly began coughing up blood. What was intended to be one of the most salubrious five-star hotels in Ireland was instead condemned to over 10 years of trying to operate a Rolls Royce with a moped’s engine.

The 2021 purchase of the hotel by Singapore-based Stanley Quek and Peng Loh, adding to an Irish portfolio including Sheen Falls and Dublin’s Trinity Townhouse Hotel, means there is finally the budget required.

A brand new and very sharp reception area puts manners on the hotel’s original rather sprawling layout, and everywhere else is nicely spruced up, while GM Brendan Comerford has a crack team trotting along at a fine clip.

Centrepiece of the new regime is Terre, a standalone restaurant sited in the ‘old house’ conceived with the highly ambitious aim of achieving two Michelin stars at the first time of asking and chef-patron Vincent Crepel is the man charged with doing so.

Terre offers a ‘culinary journey’, in excess of three hours, beginning with a dramatic walk-through of a darkened corridor to the kitchen, lined on either side by backlit glass cabinets of colourful jars of fermenting food products. And if you experience pronounced deja vu as I did, then you’ll have also dined in Michelin two-starred Aimsir, where restaurant manager Majken Bech-Bailey designed something very similar in 2019 for the Kildare-based restaurant she operates with husband and chef Jordan Bailey.

The open-plan kitchen is equally dramatic, a dark and brooding space. Diners are greeted by a startling barked ‘welcome’ from Crepel and his assembled chefs, a move first pioneered in Noma; we are then seated for champagne and amuse bouches.

A canapé, Veau Parisien (smoked milk fed veal, kalamata olive, piquillos, anchovies, white button mushroom, samphire) is an impressive opening shot, flush with savoury sweet barbecue notes. Stone Crab (kohlrabi, maple syrup casing, finger lime) pulses with sweet citric lime; lovely Ballycotton Blue Lobster (dill mayo, lemon cream, celeriac casing, confit tomato, dried hibiscus and horseradish) is followed by muscular A5 Waygu from Miyasaki Prefecture, rolled with barley koji, hazelnut, nori and yuzu kosho. All are very well crafted, technically precise and bursting with flavour.

We leave for the adjoining 18th-century manor house dining, the original heart of the hotel and still its winning hand; elegant rooms do all the heavy lifting, tasteful decor, a subtle enhancement.

Otoro (tuna belly) brings bracing yet compelling chalky mustiness, akin to the fungal funk of clothbound cheese and deep umami is bolstered by toasted Irish kelp and sweet Goatsbridge trout roe, offset by acidic verjus and crisp bite of purple radish.

Chawanmushi is flavoursome steamed dashi, speckled with tiny discs of aged wagyu ham, heat releasing its sweaty sweet hum of saddle leather. Chunks of 46 months aged Vacche Rosse parmesan, swollen with dashi, shiver in the savoury broth like silken tofu and are exquisite. But there’s more as the umami geiger counter crackles into red. Foie gras and eel both struggle to assert their own singular charms in an already potent beast of a dish; eel presents as mere texture and I also note it is Spanish, in the same week world-class Lough Neagh eel earns a prestigious Irish Food Writers’ Award, as a theme around the menu’s provenance becomes increasingly apparent.

Immaculate cod, shimmering like mother of pearl, is bathed in creamy miso and vermouth sauce of light citrus sting and taut tannic finish; white asparagus retains fresh crunch.

Aged quail, gamey flesh grilled over bincho charcoal, sports high, clean smoke, thrillingly bitter endives snap crisply under tooth, Albufera sauce is a rich, sweet meaty glaze. It is very good, deeply comforting. The only problem is, flavour fatigue set in several courses ago. Pulling off a tasting menu is so much more than assembling a host of good dishes; you need to sustain epicurean intrigue, ensuring the last dish is as vibrant, novel and appealing as first. Crepel’s penchant for multiple big, bolshie flavours wore me down way before the finish line.

A cleansing granita (ginger, lemon, lime zest) is a respite and a dusting of powdered nori eases us into the sugar of airy rice gelato with Jasmin milk and rhubarb, followed by petit fours.

Front-of-house hums, superbly drilled by very likeable and quite bubbly Hiberno-German restaurant manager Fergus McDavitt, servers delivering with easygoing, natural charm. Equally charming sommelier Filip Palfi puts together some sublimely well-judged pairings from a smart wine and beverages list.

No one goes to a restaurant to hear the music yet it remains an essential though tricky ambient ‘ingredient’. Here is it is a very ‘forward’ melange of mainstream rock (Led Zeppelin, Guns & Roses, Smiths, U2, Chic, Free, et al) intended to project rock’n’roll insouciance. Except it doesn’t. In the open plan kitchen, where it is played loud enough to be heard properly, chefs are rigid as automatons, eyes down, glued to their station, silent other than barking ‘yes chef’ in reply to Crepel’s orders; it’s like a party in a morgue. In the dining room, it must be turned way down to facilitate conversation, especially amongst older diners; it sounds tinny, shorn of energy, like straining to hear the party when locked outside. The Irish dining audience has an unerring nose for artifice and this ‘statement’ playlist reeks of it; a little less effort, and a bit more relaxation would suffice.

Though not every dish is perfect — recalling that overworked Chawanmushi —most of the cooking is top-notch, easily Michelin star level. Two stars is another story. Without wishing to sound like a parochial locavore zealot, the much-trumpeted intention to showcase the very best of Irish produce and ‘put Cork producers on the map’ is far from evident on the plate. Crepel deploys an armoury of premium global products: Japanese wagyu, Otoro; Spanish eel; Norwegian scallops; Italian parmesan; French quail, asparagus, endives; even finger limes from Australia, currently trendy after Rene Redzepi’s pop-up down under. Despite his deft combinations of classical French technique with a genuine empathy for Asian influences, it means he is often working in service of pre-ordained flavours, high-end deli as much as creative kitchen, meaning his dishes lack a real sense of ‘place’ and could be from a fine dining menu anywhere in the world — and capturing a sense of place is the ultimate grace note of the very finest cooking. Terre is not currently the equal of the other already two-starred Irish restaurants for whom a sense of place is instinctual. It will be interesting to see how Crepel evolves as he comes to really learn about Ireland and its produce — and that takes time.

The Verdict

Food: 9

Service: 9

Value: 8.5

Atmosphere: 8

Tab: Tasting Menu, €180pp (€210pp from April 1); Wine/Beverage pairing, €110/€220

  • Joe was a guest of Castlemartyr Resort. 


Castlemartyr Resort, Castlemartyr, Co Cork

Tel: 021-4219053

Opening Hours: Dinner, Wednesday to Saturday, 6.30-8.30pm; lunch, Friday/Saturday, 1-2pm

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd