Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Foodie Road Trip (Northwest/West of Ireland): Part III

The Epic Feast at VM @Viewmount House, Co Longford

Stepping inside we were greeted by one half of the Viewmount House team, Beryl Kearney, who owns and runs the place with her husband James. Her manner, like her Georgian guesthouse, is full of warmth and pretension-less ease. We were welcomed and seated in the cosy reception area, where Beryl entertained us like the kind aunt of some students who’d just come home from a school trip and were chattering away about their adventures. Then we ordered another bottle of prosecco – this time a pink one – and settled in to work through the menus.

We were in no rush. As we discussed the promising options we noted that four is really the optimum number for a group on a foodie excursion. As was the case in most of our previous dining experiences, we resolved to order every single dish to share – with four you get to try most of the menu and the group is neat enough to share around without too much hassle (or without the risk of any dish getting hogged by some person in an advantageous corner of the table). We have few rules on the foodie road trip, except the golden two: every one eats everything and everyone shares everything. Failure to comply with the latter especially will result in food mugging followed by expulsion.
Quail slider with tomberries

No fear of that with our group of foodies thankfully, and we all looked forward to the meal ahead as we were led into the expansive stylish yet rustic dining room. We were seated by a window with a view of the front garden – a rabbit actually frolicked by just as we were admiring the scene (perhaps bribed by the house with a bag of acorns... although that’s probably unlikely). Then without much delay, a pre-appetiser of mini quail burgers was brought out.

Tasting of pork
Inside the little slider, the nugget of quail meat was tender and succulent, while the other fillings, including caramelised onion and fresh rocket, were delicious and apt in their gourmet burger-ness. The toasted bun was just right, not too dense, and the accompanying tomberries and balsamic reduction on the plate gave a refreshing zing at the end. We scoffed them, and then wanted more.

As we awaited our starter, the server advised us not to eat too much of the fresh baked bread he’d just put in front of us, considering the number of courses we were about to consume. Not ones for restraint, however, we finished off the Guinness and treacle, olive focaccia, and French baguette with the cherry pepper hummus dip accompanying them, and then found ourselves asking him for more. I pity the fool who tells us to stop eating!

'Beef wonton'
Then came the starters: (1) Lissadell mussels with ‘Asian Junction Green Curry Coconut Broth’ (with shiitake mushroom, pineapple, scallion and coriander); (2) ‘Anise Orange Cured Thornhill Duck Leg Confit’ (with beetroot, mushroom, tarragon and sherry ragout); (3) ‘Wonton of Slow Cooked Donald Russell Beef Cheek’ (with Yorke's Swede, butternut squash, onion jam, ratatouille and pickled cucumber); and (4) the glorious ‘Tasting Plate of Irish Pudding and Rare Breed Pork’ (Jane Russell's black & Clonakility white pudding terrine, manuka-glazed rare breed pork cheek, pulled shoulder confit, and vegetable spring roll).

You may probably guess, as we rotated the dishes about the table with the precision of structural engineers, that the pork plate was the big crowd pleaser. Unctuous ribbons of tender meat in mellifluous culinary adonrments …I realise this is flouncier food writer tosh than I normally commit to paper (or screen), but I’m struggling to communicate the deliciousness of this pork dish without resorting to such loquacity. It was freakin’ amazing tasting, okay! Likewise the duck, while not the celebrity that pork has become these days, was equally delicious as it did it’s own thing. Rich gamey leg meat which was enveloped in the mouth by a pleasing balance of earthy and sweet flavours, all comforting and hearty. The beef cheek wonton was another goodie, with umami and sweetness reminiscent of the quail burger (sooooo good) with an added twang of acidity. Finally the mussels – which struggled to get a look in next to the meat dishes (lets face it, meat rocks) – were, of course, also beautiful to eat, with flavours that were delicate yet individual and interesting and made you keep digging until the very last bite was gone.

Second course in and we were reveling in pure satisfaction. The foodie equivalent of wanting to light up after a mouthgasm (as Ed Hick would say …love that man). The plates were cleared and we sat smiling stupidly at each other – I think I hallucinated another rabbit in the window – and we waited for our ‘middle courses.’

Gardens at Viewmount
We ate more bread.

So, on to round three and out arrived our ‘Taste of the Midlands Salad’ (containing O’Halleran’s free range egg, spinach leaves, Kelly’s organic soft cheese (as in the Moonshine Dairy), Rogan’s whiskey oak-smoked bacon, capers, herbs from the Viewmount garden (as seen earlier in Gary O’Hanlon’s hand, fresh from said garden), red onion, red wine vinaigrette, and roast pear). Times two. Also arriving for our delectation was a very special chicken and sweet corn soup, prepared using the early sweet corn from local Carrickboy grower David Burn (whose produce is showcased in Chapter One’s legendary sweet corn soup and is much vaunted by fellow advocate Ross Lewis). Soup was also times two.

The salad was fragrant and beautiful to look at and eat, bringing to mind the artistry we’d seen at Kai in Galway earlier that day. It was the kind of dish that could be used as a billboard for Irish tourism – a real reminder of how far Irish gastronomy has come and an example of how lucky we are in this country in terms of everything we have on our own doorstep. The soup, on the other hand, was pure comfort and deliciousness. While the salad eaters were waxing lyrical about its beauty and freshness, the soup eaters were making non-verbal sounds, head down and not handing it over. It was meaty and sweet and rich (probably quite fattening) and just gorgeous to eat. You could happily guzzle a big bowl of it for a meal – dangerously good stuff.

Mutiple mouthgasms (Hick, 2011). At this point, our waiter announced that chef was treating us to some special palate cleansers, and within a short while some jewel like little pots of vibrant pinky red rhubarb jelly topped with Moonshine Dairy organic natural yoghurt appeared. We were instructed to make sure to eat both together, as the rhubarb was too sweet and the yoghurt to sour to eat solo, while together they made a perfect combo. This was sound advice. Yummy. Also delivered were two bouls of mojito sorbet, each topped with a purple sprig of mint from the garden. The consensus quickly reached was that it was good mojito, frozen or not.

After the cleansing reprieve, we resumed course on our culinary extravaganza and eagerly awaited the mains, even though we may have been feeling a touch full at this stage (not enough, naturally, to slow down the expedition to the top of mount glutton). For round four, we received: (1) ‘Finnebrogue Farm Oisin Venison Saddle’ (with candied Yorke's Swede, red wine celeriac, and Valrhona chocolate berry sauce); (2) ‘Raz el Hanout rubbed Roscommon Spring Lamb Rack (with curried celeriac remoulade, kromeski (croquet) of lamb shoulder and natural yoghurt); (3) ‘Mapel Manuka-glazed Thornhill Duck Breast’ (with beetroot confit, roast butternut squash, parsnip and swede, and garlic pureé); and finally, (4) some perfectly baked Donegal Coast plaice (with a ‘spaghetti of vegetables, Clogherhead prawns, crayfish and lough Swilly crab, in coriander lime broth).

I’m almost out of language to describe the food by now – also the memory of it as I sit here writing about in detail is making me very hungry. Once again, all was delicious. The venison was especially successful – although one of our group wasn’t as partial to the ubiquitous truffle oil which had been dotted about the plate, and also added to the large gourmet potato croquets which came as a side (along with finger-licklingly buttery mash and some al dente seasonal veggies). To others it was pleasing though. The duck was perfectly pink and butter-like as the knife went through, and very attractively adorned by delicate little spears of wild asparagus and minimalist-looking root veg. The lamb was also well-received, its interesting North African spice blend a welcome wake-up from the brink of food coma. While the fish, with its delicate seafood and complimentary vegetable and herb flavours, was like a breath of fresh sea air.

I’ve talked so much food, I imaging it’s hard to take in any more description, so feast you eyes on the pictures instead. Eat a thousand calories from these pictures, or however that saying goes.

You might think we’d be too stuffed to eat anything else after all that, and you’d be correct. That didn’t stop us, however, having no less than FIVE desserts! I know, I we should be ashamed… but we’re not. After a break, the kitchen sent out: a very decadent chocolate dessert which consisted of a cylindrical dark chocolate casing containing a chocolate, Kaluah and espresso genache with a chocolate sorbet; an assortment of house-made sorbets (mango and blueberry) and vanilla ice cream; a green tea crème bruleé; an utterly moreish passion fruit parfait; and a sweet little rhubarb tart (in perfect puff pastry) with vanilla ice cream. All thanks to pastry chef Sammy who’s been at VM since it opened three years ago.

I am now officially out of food writing words. Suffice to say, in spite of how full we were on finishing off the mains, we left nothing of the desserts. At this point though we were well and truly stuffed. When the pots of peppermint tea and pretty little petits fours arrived, we could only manage a nibble of the macarons (crisp to the tooth, then meltingly soft on the inside) and handmade chocolate truffles (also divine).

Now prepare yourself readers for the biggest shock of all: the dinner menu at VM costs only €58 per head! And €53 if you leave out the dessert course, which in our case was total over indulgence. The wine list is ample, well thought out and reasonably priced, and the early bird is only €35!!

This is why I say VM was the ‘pièce de résistance’ of our journey. It epitomises the excellence and value of Irish food at its best – something we can be so proud of and should be boasting about as far and wide as we can. Likewise Beryl and James Kearney in Viewmount House (and Alan Rooks and Brigene Clafferty in Linsfort Castle) are quietly providing the kind of hospitality you couldn’t get anywhere else. Uniquely ours, worth every reasonable penny and then some, and worth the schlep to these places less visited in our lovely country. So my wish is that other people will read this blog and follow our road trip. You won’t be sorry, you just won’t want to go home.

No comments:

Post a Comment