During the 2014 Dingle Food Festival, I was directed to Idá’s, sited in a former pizza restaurant.
An upmarket pizza restaurant, mind you, plenty of raw timber and bare stone, but set up for a rapid turnover of diners and including a tricky ante-room through which all and sundry pass en route to the toilets.
The staff were pleasant but otherwise completely at sea, most no more acquainted with menu or wine list than as if freshly encountered on Tinder and a glance into the kitchen suggested a rather frenetic atmosphere as orders built up.
Yet, it was one of the three best restaurant meals I ate in the last year, up there with meals cooked by Stevie Toman, in (recently Michelin-starred) Ox Belfast, and Graham Neville, in (inexplicably, Michelin-shunned) Restaurant 41, in Dublin; Idá’s chef/ proprietor, Kevin Murphy, incidentally, is almost entirely self-taught.
This year, I need no second prompting to return. Murphy still can’t afford large structural changes but little touches, lighting, some well-chosen artworks (as befits a former art school graduate), have greatly improved the ambience.
A trio of amuse bouches arrives: leaf-thin pastry roll filled with tarragon aioli; actual leaves, sorrel, bearing piped dots of yogurt and elderflower gel; two mussel shells, tiny vessels for a rosemary hollandaise, peppered with pan-roasted buckwheat flavoured with mushroom soy and apple balsamic vinegar. All delicious, light, piquant creations, sharpening the palate.
Next is crispy new potatoes, soft duck yolk, marsh samphire and watercress. Grown by Dublin-born Murphy in his own garden (formerly his great-grandfather’s, the original Idá) out on the peninsula, he takes the ‘creachán’, the little runt spud good for nothing other than seed potatoes or dumping and subjects them to a Noma technique: baked, halved, scooped, frozen, thawed and fried.
Were Peig Sayers still around these parts, her jaw would slap the ground at such palaver meted out to the humble práta.
Were she to taste them, that jaw would clamp shut in a second, for it is one of the finest things ever done to a humble spud, sauced in viscous velvet duck yolk, a bright, clean, green watercress counterpoint, comfort food with a celestial touch.
The Dearly Beloved sups vigorously on broth of foraged land and sea vegetables, wild herbs, Ballyhoura white beech mushrooms and a raw oyster slipped into the hot broth just before serving, a collision of umami and marine, sets the senses a-sizzling.
Another amuse bouche, mackerel and smoked beet, sees the fish lightly pickled and blowtorched while smoke (normally associated with mackerel) is instead administered to ribbons of sweet beet, topped with fennel salt. I am quite giddy with pleasure.
DB has pan-roasted monkfish, parsley sea water purée, Glenbeigh mussels, pickled wild Kerry seaweeds, sea salt potatoes, a multiplicity of elements, wonderfully- balanced.
Sautéed scallops, braised pork cheek, kale leaves, pommes anna, is one of Murphy’s original signature dishes, an exquisite and sumptuous plate yet its notes resonate at a different, deeper range, curiously out of tune with the distinct and pure flavours of anything else we eat on the night.
Murphy is devoted to using the very finest produce of the peninsula, sourced or foraged down to the very last ingredient, but eschews earthy renditions for a lighter, cleaner, more ascetic touch.
Some chefs, Irish and otherwise, do similar but rare are those who don’t surrender to the notion that the punter wants nothing less than type II diabetes with fancy sugarwork on the side for dessert. Murphy’s are as near as dammit sugarfree, including superb ice creams of glacial purity and the natural sweetness of meadowsweet does the heavy lifting in a delightful sherbert.
Maintain this rate of progress and a star is certainly not the limit. Service is now of a different class; youthful sommelier David is passionate, knowledgeable and unafraid to make original suggestions from a good wine list.
In a town with probably more fine restaurants per capita than any other small town in Ireland, Kevin Murphy treads an especially elevated path. I have no intention of waiting another 12 months for my next meal there.
€152 (including wine, glass of dessert wine and one bottle Chorcha Dhuibhne Cúl Dorcha beer, excluding tip)
Tuesday to Sunday 5.30pm to 9.30pm