While spending time in Waterford last week for our 24 Hours feature we had the pleasure of staying in one of Waterford city’s most historical houses. The Athenaeum House Hotel is situated overlooking the River Suir on the other side of the city’s quays, less than 10 minutes drive from the heart of the city itself. Like many hotels it is a family run business with husband/wife team Stan and Mailo Power at the helm. Having come from a family of hoteliers Stan has Irish hospitality down to a fine art, with a background running some of Ireland’s top hotels such as Mount Juliet for many years, a warm welcome is something you will be guaranteed in spades.
The house itself, dating back to 1835 was originally a large three bedroom house belonging to a wealthy shipping merchant who was one of the first to have Bewley’s tea shipped in, so good to see 180 years later Athenaeum House is still serving the legendary brew. In 2003 the Power’s extended the house to what you see today, which is a seemless blend of old and new. Having been always known as a house that entertained it is no surprise to see the house so busy today from Afternoon Tea, intimate weddings and a busy hotel trade to an award winning restaurant which is reason enough to visit by itself.
Having recently been awarded Best Hotel Restaurant in Waterford at the 2015 Irish Restaurant Awards we were keen to find out what magic Head Chef Jean-Baptiste Dubois was working here. We booked dinner for 7.30pm and enjoy a pre dinner drink at the bar whilst enjoyed the the talents of the live piano player. The whole vibe in Zak’s is relaxed, the staff, the ambience even the music but not the food as we were about to discover.
Zak’s do a good set menu for €27pp which includes 3 course and tea/coffee but we decided to opt for the A la Carte as the Mallard Duck just sounded too good to refuse. First up was a freshly baked; warm bread basket to whet the appetite and then a rarity on most Irish menus, Wild Venison Sausage, JB’s original take on “Bangers & Mash”. A delicate enough plate of smoked sausage, wickedly pickled carrot, which got a huge thumbs up and three creamy dollops of celeriac mousseline made a well balanced dish which we would love to see more of.
The second starter was heaven for a foie gras fiend, Pan fried Duck Foie Gras with an exquisite cumberland sorbet that is like nothing we have ever tasted, Cumberland sauce should always be served cold but as a sorbet the sweet rather than sour flavours worked wonders. It was of course well aided with the tasty red currant brioche, for such a small plate this was exploding with gusto.
A nice little palate cleanser of lemon sorbet arrived before the main event, bitter and beautiful just like a Club lemon without the fizz. We would be lying if said we didn’t argue over the mains when they arrived as the presentation on both was fantastic. Generous portions of well thought out ingredients. The Breast of ‘Dromoland’ Mallard Duck mixed with hints of pear & sage crumble and garnished with a crispy leg confit & Guinness reduction was simply top class. The sauce complimented every aspect of the dish and the ingredient of the moment – beetroot was cubed and pickled just the way we love it. Rustic qualities mixed with the best of quality Irish produce even down to the herbs JB grows on a small plot on the grounds.
Having to wrestle my dish of Rack of Michael Dunphy’s Lamb back was no mean feat! I always thought I loved lambs because ; well let’s be honest, they are cute but no it’s all about the flavour. The best way lamb should be served, on the rack with lots of minty pea. The tomato and ginger granity served in a tiny shot glass gave it an additional kick , not that it was needed as the rich lamb jus was perfection in itself.
The dessert selection at Zak’s restaurant is more than tempting featuring Guinness Crème Brûlée, Lemon Drizzle Cake and Deconstructed Cheese Cake to name a few. After much deliberation the Lime Parfait won the war, true to it’s name a zesty parfait arrived with strawberry and mint gazpacho to the side and hiding a sublime (pardon the pun) lime flavoured ice cream.
We topped off the evening finishing our bottle of Milton Park Australian Reisling feeling very happy with life. From the setting overlooking the river, to the exemplary staff we were truly overwhelmed by just how special The Athenaeum House Hotel. Stan and Mailo have created a real home away from home and with a chef like Jean Baptiste they have all the elements for the perfect getaway.
This is a Taste of Waterford we cannot recommend enough.
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.