It’s fair to say not a lot of good has come from the financial juggernaut that is NAMA, with many distressed properties being swallowed up by the big boys and others left to fall into disrepair. That said the Irish Hotel industry has been one of its main beneficiaries. Many large, well known premises have been snapped up by international investors keen to pump money and fresh blood into these properties. No better example of that than the Northside institution of the Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links.
In Jan 2016 its new owners announced a €5 million refurbishment plan, with everything from the rooms, spa, bar and restaurant undergoing massive change. Fast forward to today and that upgrade is 99% complete. The 1780 Restaurant that is housed here was never really on the culinary map, something the current management team led by Barry O’Connor are committed to changing.
With an impressive extension and a redesign that exudes comfort and style a new era is underway. However the key to any successful venue is its people and this is what spiked our interest. We had heard well known chef Tom Walsh was really pushing the boat out to put this seaside hotel on people’s radar. Having over 20 years experience in top class venues like Dromoland Castle, he knows a thing or two about plating up something unique.
We popped out for dinner last Saturday not expecting to see the hotel so busy a week after Valentine’s but it was bustling with bodies. We stopped by the Seaview Restaurant and Bar for an aperitif as we were a little early for our booking. Elevated above the grounds with floor to ceiling windows we got to enjoy a spectacular view over Portmarnock beach while sipping on a fantastic Dingle G&T. It turns out this is also where they serve their Afternoon Tea which gives us a good excuse for a return visit.
As we headed down to dinner in the 1780 Restaurant we were greeted by a familiar yet unexpected face, Derek Yu who some may remember from his days out front in Michelin starred Chapter One. Derek has take over as Restaurant manager, along with his second in command another recognisable face Sean O’Reilly who is ex L’Ecrivain. With strong leads both front and back of house it’s encouraging to see Portmarnock Hotel recruiting to such a high standard.
We sat down with high expectations and were handed a simple menu priced at €42pp for five courses with an excellent choice of in season dishes such as Pressed Rabbit Terrine & Foie Gras Terrine, Beef Tartare, Roast Atlantic Halibut and Lamb Loin with Braised Neck Croquettes.
It’s an adventurous enough menu for “hotel dining” but with a chef like Tom Walsh in the kitchen it is clear that the owners want this to become a stand out destination. We began with some freshly baked soda bread and bacon bread, we were informed that everything we would sample tonight was prepared fresh in house and good bread is a good omen in our books.
First up was a little amuse bouche of delectably creamy Chicken Liver Parfait & two superb little deep fried mozzarella and chicken balls which were unusually light textured.
As our first starter arrived we knew we had chosen wisely, a well executed dish of Monk Fish Cheek accompanied by two delicate ribbons of fennel marinated courgette, which sat in a golden sea of clam and saffron broth. A beautifully balanced dish that proved to be a cracking opener.
Across the table lay a beautiful Fillet of Mackerel from Beshoffs of Howth, torched to bubbled perfection with tiny cubes of dashi pickled potato and slivers of apple batons. All the umami flavours bringing to life this flawless fish. We paired both starters with an incredible wine form South Africa, if you haven’t jumped on this band wagon yet now is the time with some breathtaking wines currently produced here. We sampled a Bellingham Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc (€47) which partnered ideally with both dishes, beautiful flavours of ripe peach, honey and oatmeal left us blown away with the finish and quality of this 2015 vintage.
Any main with chocolate sauce included is always going to high on our list so choosing the Venison with Carmelised Fig was an easy option. We were presented with a dish full of cheffy plating which Walsh certainly exceeds at, but don’t let this put you off. This little work or art tasted ten times better than its pretty as a picture exterior. Two chunks of expertly seared Vension, some crisped potato galette and plump cep mushrooms with a smearing of bitter chocolate sauce called for a wine robust to stand up to such bold flavours, the team in 1780 restaurant have just recency introduced the Corivin system which allows diners to sample fine wines by the glass, ideal if you just fancy the one or if you are driving but want that one special glass. We chose an exceptional Castello Banfi Belnero from Tuscany imported by Febvre Wines, at €15 a glass it doesn’t come cheap but this little indulgence is worth every cent.
As Portmarnock is a seaside destination it’s no surprise very good seafood features fairly heavily on Walsh’s menu. That said we chose another fish dish for our second main of John Dory, squid ink, cauliflower puree, baby leeks and some very on trend, chic chicory. A creative dish topped with Walsh’s signature ingredient samphire which we throughly enjoyed.
A lot of great chefs struggle when it comes to the old dessert trolley, but not here, we enquired after dinner if Walsh creates his own desserts so impressive are the creations and the answer from the horse mouth was absolutely. We had a pre dessert of salted caramel mousse which was feather light. Just as well as our actual dessert of a Chocolate Pot was quite substantial, to be honest it was so beautifully presented we felt almost guilty eating it..almost. It resembled a little chocolate garden on a plate with a deliciously gooey chocolate “soil”, pistachio sponge, lime sorbet, honey comb pebbles and little edible flowers.
That dessert was never going to be topped so the other side of the table was resigned to a solid cheese board of French Brie, Mileens cheese, Bandon Vale Cheddar, Cashel Blue and some full flavoured St.Tola Ash all washed down with a glass of lusciously sweet Santa Sofia Recioto from Veneto.
With so much hype built up around many new openings and reopenings over the past twelve months some venues can leave a bad taste in your mouth so high is the expectation. The only taste The 1780 left was a taste for more, it exceeded all exceptions from service and comfort to the exquisite plates of food we inhaled. The only regret … why the hell didn’t we book a room, always next time.
Dinner for two with Wine and a bottle of Sparkling Water came to €146.00
Portmarnock Hotel & Golf Links
T: 01 846 0611