The Old Bank was the talk of the town even before it opened when local man Michael Ryan, a former property developer and stud millionaire, opened his war chest for a sweeping makeover of the beautiful Bridge House – an edifice 19th century Palladian that casts a patrician eye over the charming harbor of Dungarvan.
On launch day in October 2019, everyone agreed that the restoration was top notch, no expense was spared to create elegant and salubrious interior spaces while fully respecting the historic and architectural integrity of the heritage building . The superbly equipped kitchen is one of the best in the country and the Al Eile Farm restaurant, a few miles up the road, offers fresh produce.
The gloriously high-ceilinged ground floor features a chic cocktail bar and terrace and a deceptively elegant bistro. Upstairs is a private dining room and, the finest room in the house – a long gourmet restaurant space; at the back, a large courtyard.
A few months after it opened, the Covid arrived, tearing up the best-laid plans. The courtyard became a giant drinking den under the canvas, serving a matching menu, and inside remained in darkness for much of the next two years, an original concept buried while things turned. The opening chef, Tom Walsh, finally left last year. His replacement, David Larkin, was a leftist pick, a decade out of the culinary limelight.
Larkin is one of those rare chefs who avoids attention, virtual or real, but he spent many years as the legendary Michael Quinn’s sous chef, when Quinn ran one of the country’s top kitchens. , at Waterford Castle. After the couple moved on in 2012, Larkin kept a low profile, starting a family, happy to catch his breath working low-key jobs. Now back and in the lead role, he’s no longer a stunt double.
Larkin’s opening is extraordinarily good. Along comes a bowl of delicately marinated silky beech and an onion fudge with the soft greasy textures of foie gras. They are dressed in nasturtium, pea shoots and red-veined sorrel; smoked potato soup is poured over it. In fact, “soup” is a derisory descriptor for this sublimely balanced viscous velvet concoction, bursting with deep flavors, including a wonderfully restrained, almost ethereal smoke. The “fudge” adds gritty sweetness, a tangy mushroom tingle and a spritz of cleansing Jerusalem artichoke juice cut through creamy richness.
From a culinary point of view, scallops could be described as wise, placid, always ready to support more impactful partners, even when the star turns. Yes, the homemade ponzu and dashi in the scallop eggs provide powerful umami, but it underlies rather than overpowers the creamy scallop’s marine notes. Segments of chalumeau blood orange are citric and crisp chlorophyll from black kale, red vein sorrel and crisp pea shoots round out one of the best scallop dishes I’ve ever enjoyed: if c It was tennis, think of it as the effortless recklessness of cheeky and the match-winning lob close to the net as opposed to the deadly raw power of the forehand smash.
Oxtail and Onion sees sweet and savory caramelized onions as a glistening, glistening “melt” that, gently probed, spreads into a plush and lush stew of slow-braised oxtail. Served with a café au lait sauce, it is deliciously satisfying.
The slow-braised pig’s ear is made with a velouté of cauliflower, apples reduced in red wine and freshly grated horseradish, but the anemic flavor of the intensively farmed pork is inevitably mushy; replace the true free range and we would have another triumph.
The monkfish is on a duxelle of wild mushrooms, with brown butter and an outrageously good celeriac purée. The cod is served with mashed cauliflower, delicious white beans, smoked Morteau sausage and black cabbage. Both dishes offer fine fish, cooked with precision, perfectly delivered accompaniments.
The buttermilk, blood orange, chocolate and rhubarb mousse easily trumps The Old Bank Ferrero, a monster chocolate and hazelnut bomb; although cleverly made, far too heavy to end our meal.
There are flaws. The current wine list is counterintuitively “idiosyncratic” (prices in random order; illogical groupings) and advice is unnecessary; respite, in the form of excellent Côtes du Rhône, Les Deux Cols Alizé 2020, is our own selection. The biggest crime of all is the beautiful and elegant upstairs room that sits idle.
It’s nice to hear at the end of the evening plans to rectify all of these issues and more. The laid-back downstairs bistro is a beautiful, bright space, but Larkin’s outstanding and masterful cooking deserves the best stage available, to take it to a “next level”, literally and figuratively – make sure TOB can well have all the assets of a Michelin starred restaurant in the next few years.
Tablet: €245 (wines and cocktails included, excluding tip)
- Davitt’s Wharf, Dungarvan, County Waterford
- Phone. 058 48199
- Opening hours: Wed/Thu, lunch, 12 p.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner, 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m.; Fri/Sat, lunch, 12pm-2.30pm, dinner, 5.30pm-9pm; Sunday, Roast Lunch, 12:30-3:30 p.m., Dinner, 5:30-8 p.m.