The second we heard award winning chef Rob Krawczyk was back in West Cork with an eight-week residency at the beautiful Glebe Gardens in West Cork, we booked our table. This is my review of a dining experience that is almost impossible to describe, but simply has to be shared.
Chefs are a wandering sort of folk. It’s in their nature, I feel, as curiosity gets the better of them and the urge to untether and head off on some new adventure gets too much to handle. That curiosity takes many forms: travel to discover new ingredients, food cultures and cookery practices and pop ups are the most obvious examples of this curiosity in action.
But if you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that some of these curious and wandering chefs are reappearing in very out of the way venues for a defined block of time: these are Residencies, an experimental hybrid of established venues and guest-chef takeovers that are producing extraordinary results.
One such residency is original West Cork native, former chef of Brabazon at Tankardstown Hotel and voted Best Leinster Chef in 2015 and 2016 Rob Krawczyk. Mr Flavour and I took a spin out to Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, West Cork at the beginning of Rob’s first week. We were, still are in fact, blown away by our experience.
I saw something wiz by in my Twitter feed about Rob and Glebe and immediately phoned through to book a table for two on the first Saturday night of Rob’s residency. We managed to get a table at a really early time, but I took it – no way was I missing out on this chance!
If anyone reading this has never visited Glebe Gardens before, then put it in your list! Part café, part shop, part edible gardens, part outdoor amphitheatre for the best gigs in Ireland (yes, even if it’s raining – especially so maybe!) it is a magical place. It takes hard work and passion to run such a multi-purpose business with the kind of relaxed effortlessness that is on display here. In the café by day, Tessa Perry runs a kitchen turning out a brunch/lunch menu that utilises as much produce from the garden as possible, and sources everything else locally. The food is fabulous; the service is warm and genuine and then of course there is that incredible setting – cascading gardens down to a rocky overhang that plunges into the Atlantic Ocean. It was already perfect. And then Rob came along.
Rob had left Brabazon earlier on in the year with the purpose to come back home to West Cork and set up a restaurant of his own. But what to do in the meantime whilst waiting for the perfect location to show itself. A good friend of his, food writer Joe McNamee, had suggested that maybe the Glebe maybe interested in hosting a residency over the summer. Access to garden fresh produce and surrounded by a wealth of award winning food producers, you can imagine there wasn’t much in the way of arm twisting to be done. Clearly a deal was struck, and he is now roughly four weeks into the Residency. I simply urge you to book a table. Mr Flavour and I will certainly be looking for a gap in the diary to get back down there again ourselves before it’s finished. And I will fight you for it.
Rob’s ethos for the menu is simple: just 4 elements on the plate, don’t overcomplicate things and let the ingredients speak for themselves. The menu reads simply as just the four elements of each dish. The dishes are presented with precision, as you would expect, pretty as a picture with every element clearly defined. The technical skill being employed behind each element is obfuscated by the harmony of flavours. You’re not being faced with a brash Tchaikovsky symphony that bashes the living shite out of every instrument and doesn’t know when to stop. Instead, it’s an exquisite performance of a string quartet playing all the right notes in all the right order: brilliance in simplicity.
Bread & Butter
Two delicious house made breads with butter whipped with Dillisk (seaweed) and finished with gold salt.
Doesn’t everyone just have that hiding in their cupboard?! I loved the idea of putting a precious item such as gold ontop of a humble ingredient such as butter. Irish butter is of course the gold standard, so why not!
Amuse 1: Whipped Mackerel Cones
Nestled inside a mini waffle cone was a creamy mousse made with smoked mackerel (we guess from the Woodcock Smokery), flavoured with horseradish and topped with some pickled red onion and marigold petals. Quite frankly, we would have been happy if we left at this point! A solitary mouthful of the kind of joy that shouldn’t usually be expressed in a public setting.
Amuse 2: Pickled Baby Beets, Horseradish, Soil
Two dainty baby beets: one deep purple, the other golden pickled just so with the leaves still intact and filled with a fresh horseradish cream. These two flavours is one of my most favourite parings and this didn’t disappoint. The soil was a mix of dehydrated olive, burnt onions and something else we couldn’t quite make out – a balance of sweet and earthy that literally rooted the sweet beets and horseradish together. Presented in such a way as to encourage you to eat the whole thing and leave nothing behind. By this stage, we knew we were going to be in for one amazing dinner!
Starter 1: Sea Tomato
It may look like a tomato and smell like a tomato, but it isn’t a tomato! A gel made from red tomatoes is cloaked around a ball of ocean fresh Irish Albacore Tuna Tartare. Hidden underneath is a puree of lovage – a herb that is making a comeback on restaurant menu’s this summer, but a flavour I haven’t had since childhood when my mum grew this herb that none of us knew what to do with! It is a distinctive flavour and aroma – somewhere between parsley and medicinal, but a flavour that instantly transported back to being a child in the garden with my mum and granddad in Summer, tending the garden and picking vegetables, fruits and herbs for dinner. This little mound of nostalgia sat atop a soil of dehydrated black olive – the perfect earthy setting. A tomato stem was placed on top of the whole arrangement so you are enveloped by the aroma of vine fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse as the plate is set before you. Such a divine little mouthful I haven’t experienced for many years: the creativity, the fun, the superb flavour combinations and of course the complimentary, and most welcomed, trip down memory lane.
Starter 2: Tomato Carpaccio with Peas and Chickweed
If anyone else was to present you with a dish that was essentially raw vegetables and some weeds from the garden, you’d think they had lost their minds. But in Rob’s hands, orbs of golden cherry tomato sliced thinly and dressed in a raw pea puree, dotted about with just-podded raw peas and finished with a precision scattering of chickweed, amaranth and allium flower petals was not only a work of art, but a showcase of a chefs appreciation of the beauty of natural ingredients and their ability to do all the hard work for you! This is a demonstration of a well-trained palate and the modesty of a chef who knows that sometimes the chef does not have to impose themselves on every plate of food created. Another trip down memory lane too, of being kids and picking fresh peas; podding and devouring too many leaving not many for the pot for tea. Happy days…
Refresher: Rhubarb and Sugar
Pretty sure if we’d have done a straw pole of the diners before this course came out, we all would have expected a sorbet. Well, we would have all felt collectively silly at our lack of imagination! Instead we were served a Sherbert: sticks of compressed rhubarb dusted in fine sugar. A grown up version of a sherbet dip if you will – sweet and sour at the same time. It was a total hoot!
Fish Course: Hake with Fennel and Ink
Hake is the king of Irish fish. Meaty, flavoursome and flaky – it’s the perfect advertisement for how perfect our local fish is. Wrapped in thin ribbons of courgette and finished with dots of fennel pollen,majestically seated in a lemony pond of buerre blanc brazenly juxtaposed with a swirl of black squid ink and the chlorophyll green intensity of fennel oil. The four predominant colours on the plate: white, green, black, lemon are almost punkish in contrast to delicate flavours of this dish. Triumphant!
Meat Course: Hay Smoked Duck with Yeast Cauliflower, Onion, Nasturtium
Skeaghanore Duck is such an amazing product that it’s hard to know what you could do with it to improve upon it. This course did just that. We guessed that there was probably no less than three stages to cooking the Duck: sous vide (the duck was melt in the mouth tender and still red inside), smoking and pan-frying. We could be wrong, and certainly wouldn’t profess to know in which order these would happen, but it was the only way we could account for how the duck could be so beautifully tender, yet the fat so well rendered down leaving just the crispy skin and of course the wonderful aroma of hay from the smoking. I don’t profess to understand what Yeast Cauliflower is precisely, but what is creates is a puree smoother than any silk and a flavour of roasted cauliflower that is sweet, earthy but completely bereft of the sulphuric bitterness that is so common of brassica’s. The onion was like no onion I have every tasted before – intensely sweet and burnished, a duck jus perfect for mopping and nasturtium leaves for a peppery, vegetal hit. This was Mr Flavour’s favourite dish of the night – more astonishing for the fact that he usually refers to cauliflower as “The Devil’s Vegetable”. Quite a turnaround then!
Dessert: Sabyone with Meadowsweet and Olive Oil
For anyone that doesn’t know, Meadowsweet is a wild flower that grows in hedgerows and ditches all summer long and has an intense honey sweet aroma. The whole plant has medicinal values – flower, stem, leaves and root and in medieval times was used to sweeten honey mead known as “Mead Sweet” or nowadays, Meadowsweet. In the past couple of years, this wild flower has been slowly making its way into our lives – firstly by foragers, and now by chefs, like Rob, who like to bring in a wild element to dishes. This dessert was light enough to float away and resembled a cloud too – scattered with meringue pieces, chopped pistachio’s and almonds – it almost had a nougatine quality to the finishing flavour. It was the best encore to the courses that came before it.
We finished the remainder of the Italian red, and sunk a couple of espressos. We were delighted with what we had just had the honour of experiencing. Hats off too the hard working staff both front of house and in the kitchen – particularly to the Perry sisters for opening the space for evening dining and the vision to see the mutual benefit of someone of Rob’s calibre to nestle in for eight weeks.
Throughout the meal, Rob had taken me back to a journey through my childhood: lovage, fresh peas, tomatoes from the greenhouse, hay, sherbert fizz and nougat. Like a Peter Pan meal, we were allowed for one evening to be like kids again but in a very grown up kind of way. I simply cannot wait to go back, and what’s more I cannot wait for the day when I can book a table at Rob’s own restaurant.
Did I almost forget to mention, that this feast is priced at just €50p/head? Pinch yourself…
For more info, visit the website: www.glebegardens.com