NEWLY established restaurants these days need a hook to snag customers. Great food is all well and good, goes the theory, but something else is needed to bring in the shekels, and that something is a name.
So far this year we have visited Avenue by Nick Munier and Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill; on our to-do list is the rather unwieldy titled Taste at Rustic by Dylan McGrath. No doubt by the end of the year there will be more names, more restaurants, more snagging hooks to make you part with your money. We will warrant, however, that none of them will have as many boxes ticked off as The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz.
People who care about such things will recognise Matz’s name from his previous work as Ashford Castle’s executive chef and at various times in the past 20 years he has been named Best Chef This and Best Chef That. No pressure, then, to set up a concept restaurant that bears his name over the entrance. Particularly no pressure when the place is in a relatively remote part of Connemara, and when it is being pitched as a ‘destination’ restaurant. Here’s the thing, however: if The Chef’s Table isn’t an Irish destination restaurant to beat all Irish destination restaurants, we’ll put on coats, pack up bags, throw away laptops, and move to the most northern point of Alaska.
The Chef’s Table by Stefan Matz is attached to Delphi Adventure Resort, itself a destination that has been on the radar of those that like to relax in a spa whilst simultaneously looking out across rugged mountain views. Which means that if you want to sort out the problems of the world over a bottle or two of wine then you won’t need to drive home. Yet the Chef’s Table also works perfectly as a standalone entity; the picturesque setting and rough-hewn landscape might be something you’d imagine Montana would be like, but as soon as you walk into the restaurant — which has been open for business since May — you know you’re on a type of home turf that is Irish at heart yet international on every other level.
The room seats just 35, is brightly (and nicely) lit, has tasteful wall art depicting Connemara scenes, and the kitchen located as the centrepiece. It is, we suppose, an interactive element whereby the diner can view the food being cooked, but this depends on where you’re sitting. The restaurant also has the right sound level for the more subtle elements of classic rock (including Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin) wafting over your head. If there are hints of safety and conservatism with the music (and there absolutely is) there’s nothing of the sort with the menu.
Divided into two sections (A la Carte and Chef’s Tasting), we don’t hesitate for a second to go for the latter. It states it’s a five-course menu, but there are at least two between-course additions that make it even more interesting. There is a choice of having paired glasses of wine with four of the courses, but we instead choose from the wine list (a bottle of chilled, crunchy Sancerre). Value for money for this standard of cooking is superb – the five-course tasting menu costs €49 per person, and while you might think such a selection of dainty food doesn’t add up to a substantial meal you would be completely wrong.
From the top, the tasting menu comprises salad of Killary Lobster and porcupine prawn (with baked apple and basil), fillet of wild salmon (with blackcurrant vinaigrette), Angus fillet of beef (three pieces roasted, smoked and pickled, with button mushrooms, cream potatoes, French duck foie gras crumble), baked goats cheesecake (with marmalade of red bell peppers), and watermelon dessert (lime, caramelized ginger, vanilla ice cream). The between-course extras include carrot and ginger mousse with carrot crisp, and raspberry sorbet with balsamic jelly. Another unheralded extra was the professionalism of the staff who, to a person, were sensibly interested in the food and our reactions to . Tea and coffee were also included.
Everything placed in front of us was flawless — this was fine dining delivered as an art form but without the whiff of pretension that can occasionally come with it. A genuine destination restaurant? A truly stunning location? Point-perfect work? Start ticking those boxes now.
Dinner for two (five-course Chef’s Tasting Menu), with wine, came to €148, €20 tip.
During September, open Wednesday- Sunday 7pm-9.30pm. For future opening times, you are advised to check in advance.
In a sentence: Beautifully located, magnificently achieved, this is as much cooking as a refined art form as a means of sustenance.