Restaurant review

Michelin-starred restaurant Chestnut is warm and welcoming in Ballydehob

One of the main reasons for Ballydehob’s recent revival is Joe O’Leary and Caroline O’Donnell’s Levi’s Corner House, a jewel country pub reincarnated as Rio Carnival, and pretty much my favorite bar on the planet. After lying through my teeth about ‘kick-off’ time to tonight’s catering partners, SpouseGirl, and two old friends, Lady V and JB, who all share a ‘flexible’ relationship with the ‘clock I managed to conjure up enough time for a pre-prandial aperitif at Levi’s and the warm, buzzing room on a crisp Friday night sets the tone for the evening to come.

If Lévis is a mini Mardi Gras, then Rob Krawczyk and Elaine Fleming’s Michelin-starred Chestnut restaurant is a dimly lit Buddhist temple, a former country pub transformed into a Zen-like space of low wood-panelled ceilings and walls painted with deep, soothing moss. green, but it’s just as warm and inviting, as if we’d left the rowdy kitchen at a party for the comparative calm and comfort of the front living room.

A pretty miniature loaf of soda bread is first served with cultured butter. The warmed bread, made with James Kelly wholemeal flour, sprinkled with Kelly’s oats, for my money the best in Ireland, and tangy, funky butter, made with cream from Gloun Cross dairy, melts into a sweet, nutty loaf.

Next come cold cuts and pickles. Rob’s father, Frank Krawczyk, who lives near Dereenatra, is the first godfather of Irish charcuterie. Now he and Rob make deli meats from their own pigs, raised near the Lisheen farm. Just three miles away, it’s owned by Bradley Putze and Deirdre McElligot who sell their superb vegetables under the Lisheen Greens banner and have a year-round symbiotic working relationship with Chestnut. Pickled pickles and asparagus arrive with the best Irish salami you’ll ever eat, flavorful meat with creamy, chewy fat, palate-cleansing pickles after every bite, Chestnut’s micro-local supply chain comes down to some delicious bites.

A flower-shaped tuile set is a nest of smoked mackerel mousse, punched fish softened by the cream of cheese of the day. At the top, hints of salty umami in pearls of Goatsbridge trout roe, then refreshed by peppery nasturtium leaves and pickled fennel buds as the light tuile implodes into a fiery foam.

Crumpet is a soft bed for beef tartare, tender, chewy raw beef with high metallic notes of iron, seasoned with creamy, salty Young Buck blue cheese with a sting of penicillin. The diced chives add the bright astringency of the onion.

Next is a lush, puffy langoustine, big and round, slathered in head butter and bearing charred grill scars on its back as it lays like a lazy bather on the “shore” of a creamy bisque pool. and silky.

I dredge the juicy, plump crustacean in a potent sauce, and it makes for such compulsive eating you’d stash 10 of them in a heartbeat like they were crisps. I scour the bowl to mop up every bit of evidence.

JB has been a full vegetarian for over four decades, and his alternative to our langoustine is worth noting. The slow-cooked chicken egg sits on top of umami sea lettuce, on top of that, juicy, meaty grilled oyster mushrooms, then shavings of raw, tender, fungal chestnut mushrooms, all topped with a thin layer of grated coolea cheese. The textures are soft, even playful, but carry in their own way a weight similar to that of our langoustines.

Bovine Tartar

There’s more langoustine, this time a buttered tartare on a prawn cracker with black squid ink and caviar, a blissful snack to be demolished in one bite. Tomato water is a unique proposition, a sweet and salty cold consommé, an ode to Lisheen Greens tomatoes. Other snacks follow before the first “dish” of the tasting menu: wild turbot poached in brown butter, served with a split buttermilk sauce with chive oil.

I had rather ignored the ‘poached’, expecting the more advanced boldness of seared turbot, at this point in a tasting menu where most chefs lose their temper and find it best to start filling the Gael lest he say Gael is not completely full and ends up stocking up on crisps on the way home later that evening. Instead, the butter-poached fish is tender and elemental, a sweet and contemplative pleasure as much as a delicious bite.

Skeaghanore duck cooked on the crown over coals is pink, tender and shiny meat with a savory base of fat. Uncle Eddie’s plums intertwine with zesty elderberries in a duck-bone jus, with the charred onion adding its own sweet notes. On the side, grilled duck hearts, small soft nuggets infused with bay leaf. Again, the flavors are big but not too loud, and what reads like a killer pretty much passes the Goldilocks test: just right.

Mead Sabayon is made with honey from the Love family in Knockeen, served with caramel, meadowsweet and bee pollen, sugars perfectly calibrated to stay well south of excessive sweetness, an enjoyable dessert.

Bay Leaf Sherbet and Dill Oil, however, is of a different order altogether, combining smooth and sublimely tangy Velvet Cloud Yoghurt with fresh herbal notes of bay leaf, wood sorrel and dill oil. Is it a sweet or savory dish? Definitely the former, but to simply call it “dessert” is doing this sublime creation a disservice. SG wonders if it’s not the most beautiful thing she’s ever eaten in her life and is completely sincere.

A few more sweets, and we’re done, but there’s none of that heavy lethargy, food coma so often the final legacy of too many tasting menus that leave you stuffed to the gills. The four of us are completely sated but fortunately rid of the excess ballast.

Krawczyk’s extraordinarily good cuisine is constantly evolving, but the pattern remains the same, a cycle through the seasons delivered with an ever-present delicacy of touch, an ethereal lightness brought to each dish, food that never feels the need to bragging about its merits. , when a few softly spoken and well-chosen words convey exactly the same message, of a superlative product delicately coaxed to reveal its quintessence on the plate.

Wild turbot poached in hazelnut butter
Wild turbot poached in hazelnut butter

The verdict

Food: 9.5

Service: 8

Assess: 9

Atmosphere: 9

Tongue: Signature Tasting Menu 140€pp (excluding tip and wine)