IT WOULD be at least unexpected— but certainly entertaining — if a United Nations committee looked down from its moral plateau and demanded that the right universally recognised — A Diners’ Right to Choose — be enshrined in our culture and, if needs be, given legislative standing.
The committee might assert that a set menu is an affront to the right to the free expression of choice and denies the right to exercise control over their appetite and the choice between beef or salmon. Je suis Chicken Curry as it were.
Our recent history shows there would be an immediate and colourful, if not entirely rational, protest group ready to mount a blitzkrieg picket almost anywhere, maybe even block politicians at Leinster House or maybe block minimum-wage kitchen workers going about their sweaty, thankless business.
There would be fervoured speeches about tradition and warnings that this was not the Ireland the Men of 1916 died for.
Inevitably, broadsheets would carry letters arguing that this intrusion into our affairs is the thin end of the pluralist/liberal wedge and all part of a conspiracy driven by an out-of-control media.
The letter would be signed with one of the multi-syllable, three-foot long names in Irish that even the correspondent’s mother can’t pronounce because it was made up after a particulalry good, boozy weekend on Oileán Chléire.
Then there would be demands for an inquiry into how this might impact on the farm sector and the sticky issue of compensation (minus “reasonable” legal fees of course) would arise.
All very predictable, all divisive and oh-so draining — and pretty pointless in the grand scheme of things too.
One of the very best arguments the UN Committee would have to overcome if it wished to ban set menus is the “Convivial Menu” offered for €45 at the new addition to West Cork’s litanty of restaurants — The Mews in Baltimore.
This snug restaurant opened just last Easter and is run by three, über cool, inevitably bearded and enthusiastic young men — chef Luke Matthews and colleagues Robert Collender and James Ellis.
Lots of restaurants offer a tasting menu but very few — the lovely Old Convent in Clogheen, Co Tipperary, is another I think — offer that alone.
It may take a small leap of faith but that is usually balanced by the restaurant’s determination to justify making all of the choices for its customers.
Very few restaurants offer the welcome and explain so enthusiastically, almost evangelically, what their set menu consists of as The Mews. If you were not hungry when you arrived the explanation will certainly stir your appetite.
We — DW as ever — were given three starters to share and they were so good, poor old DW was lucky to get a look in.
There was a small plate of mackeral tartar, a tidy lamb pie with brown sauce and brawn and pickle. The descriptions were hardly adequate to the task; a bit like describing Maria Callas as a singer.
The sweet, succulent mackerel came with a counter-punching goosberry sauce and was a lovely opener. The brawn and pickle was totally undersold on the menu.
It was lovely, deep, almost carmel-rich tasting. The luxurious brawn was presented in a nutty spring roll style envelope with, again, a counter-punching pickle.
The best starter, for me anyway, was the lamb pie and brown sauce — the sauce was superfluous as the lamb and vegetables, all under a steaming roof of puff pastry, was so very full of flavour that I’d drive to Baltimore on a winter’s day for a good bowl of it.
Go hiontach, as the letter writer with the two-furlong-long name might say.
The main course — roast monkfish tail with grilled courgettes and samphire — may have spoilt monkfish for me for a while.
It was so pulsatingly fresh it was like eating a pillow of flavour, it was so sweet, so juicy and tender it was exceptional. Another reason for a long winter drive.
Desserts — mini doughnuts with ice cream, strawberries and elderflower and drop scones with some cheese — were lovely too.
This is a grand small restaurant with good standards and a very good attitude. It will, hopefully, become a resounding success. West Cork would be all the better for it.
Set dinner, €45, wine — a very light Spanish red Viaterra, €33; tip was extra.
July and August Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm.
An intimate dining room with an excellent set menu.