A trek from Dublin to my home town of Killarney can be torturous so some cajoling is sometimes needed to get myself into the car and on the road. In need of an incentive, I planned to meet a friend in Adare for dinner, the perfect excuse to finally sample the much lauded culinary skills of Wade Murphy, chef proprietor of 1826 Adare. Pleased with my two birds with one stone strategy, I set off eagerly, anticipating a perfect pit stop on my mammoth cross-country drive with the Best Restaurant in Munster 2016 awaiting me.
Even without stopping, the journey through the picturesque village of Adare is always a treat, nestled in the shadow of the magnificent grounds of Adare Manor with a main street lined with postcard perfect thatched roof cottages. 1826 sits on this perfect row, housed in an unspoiled cottage so enticing throngs of tourists block the gate posing for photos in front of it – if I were to judge a book by its cover 1826 has classic fairytale written all over it.
Inside is a white stone-walled oasis of calm, mahogany off-setting a cosy palate of neutrals which catch the natural light from a beautiful courtyard terrace – not your average country cottage by any stretch of the imagination. The dining room is cosy, warm and inviting, reclaimed with modern touches which manage to sit perfectly with the overall consciousness of the cottage’s heritage – rustic chic at its finest. 1826 is as beautiful inside as out – which is quite a statement as it is surely among the prettiest buildings I have ever laid eyes on.
We are greeted by Elaine, Wade’s wife and co-proprieter, whose welcome is as warm as the cottage’s homely feel. Although 1826 has recently been awarded a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin guide, pretension is not on the menu – the ambience is relaxed with a team of young, friendly waitresses and Elaine herself on the floor, nothing is too much trouble and they are keen to ensure your evening in their company is a wonderful one.
After settling in to a lovely table with a view of the courtyard we dove into the menus, excited to see what Wade had to offer. We happily perused the wine list, which includes a vast selection by both the glass and 500ml carafe, which is a pleasant change to lists which have a limited by-the-glass offering.
Upon deliberation of the starters I was faced with an uncommon dilemma – I was struggling to commit to one choice when all sounded so alluring. Duck Ham and Slow-cooked Croom Egg and Pan Fried Chicken Livers with Piccalilli Aioli and Almonds very narrowly lost out to Shaved Pear and Young Buck Salad (€9.95) which felt like the perfect light choice for a summer’s evening.
It can be difficult to make a salad look exciting, but my first look at Wade’s handiwork was a visual feast. Fuschia-tipped chicory leaves cradled shavings of pear and crumbles of delectable Young Buck, a raw milk blue cheese with phenomenal depth of flavour and pungency. Chicory was an inspired leaf choice as it never wilts, maintaining delicious crunch with slight bitterness against the sweetness of another genius addition – honeycomb chunks. These nuggets pulled the dish together and allowed the walnuts to be pickled rather than candied, as they often are, so the nuttiness shone through. As a salad lover, this one is near the top of my favourites to date.
Triona opted for the special starter of Baked Scallops with Air Dried Ham and Herb Butter (€12.95) a simple but expertly executed dish. Plump and perfectly translucent within,the scallops were voluptuous and rubenesque like Venus on the half shell, succulent and sweet. Air dried strips of ham added an intensely savoury element, and the buttery crisp bread crumb topping was a pleasing contrast. I was lucky to get a bite as these were quickly devoured.
We were certainly impressed with the flawless execution of our starters, so anticipation was building for main course. Triona toyed with the idea of Aged Rib-eye with Beef Cheek Croquette but decided again to try a special dish – Wade keeps the menu fresh with numerous chalk-board additional options – Slow Braised Beef Short-Rib with Ballyhoura Mushrooms (€24.95).
A dish which is so often slopped in a bowl, the short-rib arrived perfectly perched on a bed of the king of Irish mushrooms – Ballyhoura Shitake and was artfully dotted with a thick red onion jam reduction – pretty as picture, on one of the stunning plates 1826 has no shortage of. This dish had an Asian undertone and was stickily sumptuous, so tender taking a knife to it would have been an insult. I was rather jealous of this choice, which undersold itself on the menu but turned out to be mouthwatering. Along with a side of roasted carrots and cauliflower tossed in turmeric (€3.95), this was a fantastic dish.
For my own main, I had no difficulty choosing – A Tasting Plate of Pork (€23.50) had to be sampled. Showcasing three different incarnations of pork, a dish like this is the perfect way to let Chef flex his culinary muscles and upon the mention of Inch House black pudding, I was immediately sold.
I was presented with a beautiful display of loin, belly, black pudding and while the menu listed celeriac puree, I was given carrot and anise, which was an even better match for a pork dish. The fennel-like anise and sweetness of carrot paired beautifully with blushing disks of loin, indicative of the quality of the pork, sourced from Mary Regan in Enniscorthy. Alongside, a bon bon of Inch House black pudding, so soft, almost sweet and insanely moreish that I make a mental note to run out to stock my fridge with it for Sunday morning. Popped pork skin scratching sat atop an elegant tranche of sticky rather than crisp-topped belly, with a coating of Limerick’s own Treaty beer mustard to finish. This dish was exciting, perfectly pitched and completely luscious.
Having become mildly addicted to Young Buck after my starter, the 1826 Cheeseboard (€9) alongside a shared dessert was non-negotiable and I had nursed my delicious glass of Macon Villages Burgundy to deliberately to enjoy them together again. Apple pickle had a hint of a fermented flavour and spice, which highlighted the piquancy of Young Buck. Cratloe Hills, our answer to manchego and intensely salty, sat happily with meltingly creamy Cooleeney, pickled walnuts and apple slices -Wade has curated a delicious showcase of artisan Irish cheese.
At this point, we briefly thought a proper dessert would be a bridge too far, but I always like to end on a sweet note, even just a few bites will do. Peanut Butter and Caramel Parfait (€6.95) was, in a word, luxuriant, mouth enveloping flavour with cloud like texture topped with a quenelle of dark sultry mousse with no density – a difficult finish to achieve. Finishing desserts is not my thing but this plate went back clean, after I emerged the victor in a spoon war for the last bite – like a slick snickers bar, it was so dangerously good I’m still dreaming about it.
Excluding service, the bill for a fantastic dinner in a most beautiful setting came to €125 for three courses each, a carafe of Macon Villages, tea and coffee – money and an evening very well spent. Wade’s motto is ‘keep it simple, stupid!’ and his talent means he can afford to live by this rule in the kitchen. He has a lightness of hand which allows him to extract maximum flavour from the simplest of (local) ingredients and layer them to create perfect contemporary Irish food.
Unlike many chefs these days, he knows the ingredient that is one too many and exercises restraint, confidence that comes from knowing that his food doesn’t need a flurry of frills to impress. Coco Chanel famously advised taking off one item before leaving the house, but Wade’s dishes are never over-accessorised.
As our evening draws to a close, Wade appears and we get to talking about my struggle to choose a starter. He tells me his chicken liver dish is so popular that his attempt to take it off the menu was met with protest from regulars, who have been known to beg for a portion to take away. I’m intrigued and aghast that I missed out and vow to come back, although I had already made that decision upon first bite – 1826 has not seen the last of me and I am looking forward to being warmly welcomed back to this Adare gem very soon.
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Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that (and greed) as the ultimate motivators, I quickly realised that home-baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, which fuelled my desire to set my focus on food in a serious way. Working with The Taste allows me to satiate this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting. Follow me as I share my food adventures and hopefully inspire others to indulge their passion for cooking and food in the process!