Midleton: Raymond's a must stop on any gastro tour

Raymond’s Restaurant, Distillery Walk, Midleton, Co Cork; tel: 021-4635235, raymonds.ie

ANYONE with an appetite, a credit card with a pulse and a very patient driver — the basic qualifications for this job — anyone who enjoys the idea of a short break built around visits to good restaurants in lovely places could do an awful lot worse than base themselves for a few days in the triangle between Midleton, Dungarvan and, say, Cashel.

Almost surreptitiously — though not quietly — a small battalion of very good restaurants has changed the landscape for anyone interested in something a sliver more adventurous, a sliver less Catholic, than roast meat and two veg boiled and crushed into anonymous bio pulp will find considerable comfort in this Trenchers’ Triangle.

Despite our travails we have options unimaginable just 20 years ago and, even in the depths of this miserable recession, the very busy dining rooms at some of the more popular restaurants are testimony to this.

It is appropriate so that one of the handful of people who were catalysts for this change — Myrtle Allen — spent, and thankfully spends, her life working near enough the centre of this triangle, her ideas and alumni changing the menu in a way few have. She, or her successors, may not have touched all of those involved in the food business but they have helped raise standards and expectations in a way that seems, thankfully, impossible to reverse.

Raymond’s Restaurant, in Midleton, just 50 yards from the Midleton Heritage Centre, fits perfectly into this milieu. It serves very good food in a charming space and, as we found out, understands the idea of keeping the customer happy.

Owner Raymond Whyte has cooked in restaurants worldwide and describes his restaurant’s ethos as classical with hints of French and Mediterranean influences with particular, as is now de rigour, emphasis on fresh and locally-sourced ingredients.

For openers DW chose a salad of smoked Gubbeen cheese, salted almonds, crispy bacon and various leaves. This was far, far, better than the sum of its parts, better even than the wonderful slivers of richly flavoured bacon — local butcher Jimmy Crowley’s we were told. It was a generous, cheering opening.

My starter also honoured the pig — belly of pork with butternut squash and an apple salad. This was a substantial piece of meat, so much so that it would be classed as a main course in many restaurants, especially arty ones where faffy process trumps purpose. It was good but someone with a small appetite might need will power not to finish it and leave room for later courses. Another generous, cheering starter.

DW’s main course, after a beautifully pert and smooth palate-cleaning sorbet but not quiet sorbet, was roast cod with butternut squash and green beans. This showed how splendid fresh fish cooked simply but very well, with a very good supporting cast, is so very hard to beat. Excellent.

The same can be said of my main course — roast duck with walnut stuffing, apricot and apple compote and jus. The duck was succulent, generous and in wonderful contrast to those boney, miserable cadavers served in so many restaurants. This dish was pushed into the memorable category by the very rich stuffing, the wonderfully spicy and perfectly pitched jus and pointed again to our unfortunate cultural reticence about matching fruits and spices with meats. Top class.

DW’s desert was a moderately impressive if entirely serviceable apple pie, mine was another of those wonderfully sweet chocolate and ice cream concoctions so easy to enjoy but always with a tariff of guilt.

When we ordered wine we asked for a Merlot and the bottle presented was not the one ordered. I, carelessly, nodded assuming it was the one we had asked for but it was not. Despite being opened — screw top — before my blunder was noticed it was changed without the tiniest quibble. Though the wine we ordered was out of stock we were given a comparable and enjoyable Chateau Sainte-Marie Vieilles Vignes (€28.50) This response, though appropriate, is not always offered and it set the tone for a lovely few hours with excellent food and service.


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