A NOCTURNAL approach to Greene’s never fails to stir the soul: through cobbled courtyard, the ruddy glow of old red brickwork under soft lamplight, the magical shimmering waterfall, all heavily pregnant with the promise of great pleasure ahead. And then we step into the very heart of ‘Office Christmas Party-ville’.
No Christmas Grinch, I’m always game-ball for kicking off the Jimmy Choos to sashay down the centre of a table but if you’re not part of the action, there can be few places less appealing than being posited amongst a large group of strangers having fun, whether they want to or not.
Furthermore, Dr J and I are conducting a conspiratorial tête-à-tête begun shortly beforehand by a cosy fireside in Dan Lowry’s pub right across the road, so we decline an admittedly bright and buzzy main room for a quieter spot on the margins. We pull a cheap cracker and set about perusing the menu — the Christmas Party menu.
Newly-arrived Bryan McCarthy is a talented, inventive chef, his delightful cooking a perfect fit for such a beautiful venue, but tonight’s menu is resolutely mainstream and, we are told, the de facto restaurant menu for December. It includes a Chicken Supreme (rightly or wrongly absent from most serious menus for possibly two decades) and a 10oz Ribeye Steak, the overwhelming choice for the majority of tonight’s humungous 205 diners. We plump for English Market Spiced Beef with Pea, Truffle, Hazelnut and Shavings of Desmond Cheese and Ummera Smoked Salmon & Cured Organic Salmon with Cucumber, Horse Radish, Lemon & Beetroot as starters but, sensing our lack of enthusiasm, we are offered an alternative specials menu.
I jump at Roast Pheasant, Confit Leg, Black Pudding, Chestnut & Spiced Bread Pastilla and a Mulled Wine Jus but, on my advice, Dr J sticks with his original choice of Feather Blade of Hereford Beef, a sometime McCarthy signature dish.
Both starters are pretty little plates. The beef is sweet and tender and the salmon is subtly cured, not too oily yet it dissolves like butter in the mouth and the accoutrements are pleasant diversions.
Dr J is mightily impressed by his slow-cooked beef, as he should be, slivers of tender meat gently falling away under his probings, like a drunk sliding down a lamp-post. A deep, rich, umami-filled gobful, it is as good an example of proper Irish cooking as you’ll come across.
My pheasant, on the other hand, is disappointing, the breast tougher than it should be and, while there are some very nice flavours, there are not one or two, but three pieces of bone in my pastilla. It is, in my experience, an aberration from a McCarthy kitchen, signs of a fine dining operation straining at the seams as it caters to huge wedding banquet numbers.
A Blackberry & Apple Crumble has a nice tart Bramley bite, but Dr J claims his mother’s version still holds the crown. A good son, he would say that.
My ‘Festive Presentation’ is a medley including a lovely fluffy Baked Christmas Pudding, a slightly over-sweet Lemon Posset (that appears to be stalking me through half the restaurants in the land over the last few years) and, best of all, a crème brulee in a soft pastry shell, flamed sugar topping giving way with a fragile snap to a creamy custard.
Service is splendid and early bird prices means our three-courser with wine (two pichets, a Muriel Bodegas Crianza and a Las Jamelles Merlot) is rather a steal.
I would never dream of condemning a restaurant for trying to put bums on the seats, but expecting a chef of McCarthy’s calibre to offer a la carte fine dining to such large volume groups is the culinary equivalent of buying a racehorse to pull a wagon. I look forward to returning when the decorations are down and the dust has settled.
Total €90 plus tip