visits the Bay Tree Bistro in Waterford
HAVING garnered a clutch of awards (McKenna’s Guides Best Newcomer 2015; RAI Awards Best Newcomer & Best Chef Munster 2016) and a burgeoning national reputation, Keith and Carmel Boyle’s Bay Tree Bistro swiftly outgrew its original home over a small pub.
The new venue on the quays is a high, handsome room with exposed old brickwork and, though they could well revisit décor and lighting when budget permits, is a warm, welcoming space on a crisp night.
We kick off with cocktails and a grin, the latter attributable to cheeky garam masala flavouring on good homemade crisps. Grin becomes a smile with some cracking warm breads and compound butters, wild rocket & parmesan baguette, especially fine.
Punchy tastes and textures abound in smart little ‘snacks’: White Pudding & Blue Cheese Gougere; Chicken Mousse & Curry Granola; Soy-glazed Chicken Oyster; Beef Tartare with Balsamic Caviar, though the multiplicity of flavours raises questions about pacing: would it be better to hold something in reserve?
An ‘amuse bouche’ of BallymaKenny Farm Heritage Potato Risotto is delightful, pink and purple spuds brunoised to serve as still-al dente rice substitute, paired with an immensely comforting sauce of leek and Cashel Blue. Beef cheek rillettes with brown butter schmaltz melt in the mouth while The Light of My Life (hating her previous soubriquet, she has demanded a new one. I give it a week) enjoys rather ‘cheffy’ Sea Bass, Potato, Apple and Beetroot.
Black Sole, Burnt Cauliflower, Prawn, Green and Red Grape riffs on classic Sole Veronique, fish, immaculately cooked, a prawn-heavy sauce dominating the lower register. Kilkenny Rose Veal is exquisitely done, tender as an infant’s cheek, but the variety of umami-rich meat offerings that precede it have taken their toll, the comparatively callow flavour of veal paling in contrast, despite support from glazed onion, onion ketchup and bone marrow jus.
Boyle’s cheeseboard includes an old friend, Gubbeen, alongside excellent in-house crackers.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about tonight’s barnstorming meal is that it emanates from a seriously understaffed kitchen (Ireland’s chef shortage is now at crisis levels), evident in a pre-dessert where slightly ‘bitter’ cucumber granite and too-sweet lemon curd fail to marry with gin & tonic jelly, suggesting there was no time to properly assess the finished product.
Desserts (Chocolate, Peanut Butter, Honeycomb, Popcorn) and petit fours (Lemon Madeline, White Chocolate & Salt Caramel Rolo, Chocolate & Cherry Truffle, Passion fruit Marshmallow) are highly accomplished, technically adroit renditions of the pastry chef’s craft but I confess all blend into a surfeit of sugar on my palate. It’s not Boyle’s fault, per se — he has to satisfy an appetite and demand amongst most diners for same — but these lack the genuine innovation of his savoury dishes. (A question for many of Ireland’s finest chefs — does dessert always have to be so ‘sweet’?)
Boyle’s culinary journey has taken a markedly different path to almost every single one of his Irish peers. Though he studied alongside — and befriended-for-life —David Hurley (recently departed, justly lauded chef at Gregan’s Castle; before that, The Tannery), as culinary college finished, Boyle’s partner, Carmel, fell unexpectedly pregnant.
Upon graduating, Hurley headed off to London and Le Gavroche; Boyle hit the pub circuit in Waterford where he spent pretty much the next two decades until, 18 months ago, he and Carmel cobbled together €3,000, all they could raise at the time, to fulfill their dream and open BTB over a local suburban boozer.
All the culinary learning necessary to bridge the gap between carvery and haute cuisine, the remarkable Boyle has taught himself. Even with the occasional misstep, it is a joy to eat the food of a chef so utterly in thrall to his craft, an old pro operating with the enthusiasm, vigour and verve of a freshly unfettered young ’un.
In another forum, I recently described BTB as something of a leggy young foal in comparison to the experienced thoroughbreds that are its fine dining county compatriots but, make no mistake, this is very much the company BTB hopes to keep in the future — I can guarantee you’ll find me mucking out in the stables!
The Bay Tree Bistro, 16 Merchant’s Quay, Waterford.
Tel: 051-858517; www.thebaytreebistro.com
Ten course tasting menu, €70 per person; with matching wines, €100
Tuesday to Friday, 5pm to 10pm; Saturday, 2pm to 10pm