Our visit to Mount Juliet last week is one we will remember for several reasons. Unfortunately for us the taxi driver we had booked was a little eager (to put it mildly) to get there from Kilkenny city, where we were staying the night. Apart form driving his modest Megane like an Aston Martin round the narrow roads of Thomastown he has took the whole Mount Juliet experience to a new level when he “mounted” the path along their golf course on the drive up to the main hotel! Not gonna lie it is pretty dimly lit at night, we like to call it atmospheric, but clearly he had not got a clue where he was going. Thankfully we eventually managed to reach our safe haven and stiff drink was the first thing on our mind.
Anyone who has visited here before will tell you how breathtakingly beautiful the house itself is, their tagline is “when you pass through the gates of Mount Juliet Estate you are in a different world” and to be honest that is pretty accurate. Dating back to 1750 the house still retains all the elegance and grandeur you would expect from a stately home with detailed cornices and artwork dotted throughout each room. We took a seat in the very regal bar area first and sample a nice 12yr old Redbreast in front of the blazing fire until our table was ready. This is one occasion when we were in no hurry for the table and would have happily sat there bemoaning our taxi ride all night. However the whole point of travelling outside the city to dine was to sample Michelin star Head Chef Ken Harker’s food.
When you enter the dining room in Lady Helen you’re met with an air of calmness and a room draped in history and refinement. Three huge Georgian windows are the backdrop for a stunning, romantic setting, no surprise then to see the room full, mostly of couples. We just missed out on the best seat in the house, centre and in front of these impressive bay windows, that seat was home to the Kilkenny legend Henry Sheflin and his incredibly stylish wife Deirdre who are apparently regulars. Happy to be sharing the room with such fine company we settled on the menu. There is a choice of the Table d’hôte with 2 courses for €65pp and 3 courses for €75. We found the seven course tasting menu at €75pp had some steady staples we opted for this along with the wine pairings for additional €35pp.
We began with a super selection of breads and sampled some sourdough and bacon and onion with a little Cuinneog butter which was divine. Our amuse bouche consisted of a an intriguing mushroom jelly, smoked almonds and tiny shavings of chocolate. A very rustic looking little bowl of bold flavours.
The first course of Scallops was not only aesthetically awesome but bursting with tangy orange zestiness, carrot, chicory and perfectly placed cubes of smoked eel, with the exception of Thorton’s we have never tasted a scallop dish so outstandingly good. Paired with a Bourgogne Kimmeridgien Burgundy we were very happy campers.
Next up was the Cod well portioned for a tasting menu and seared to a crisp perfection on top, plated exquisitely with fennel, chantrelles, clams and set in a rockfish sauce with a delicate saffron aioli. Harker has such talent in transforming a simple, sometimes bland fish we all cook on a regular basis to a plate that we leave you in awe of his creativity. The suggested Lugana Zenato, Veneto worked beautifully with the fish.
The Challan Duck was the one dish we both were really looking forward to. With an Asian slant to the dish it really stood out amongst all the other plates that night. Bok Choy, watermelon, kalmansi orange, mooli radish and Nepalese pepper took us on an Eastern journey. We loved every element, each one tested the boundaries of the taste buds, simply put this was one sexy duck. A big, round Pierre Amadieu Gigondas topped off the dish with it’s smoky, peppery flavours.
A short break in service and then it was straight into our pre-dessert of Cucumber Sorbet perched on top of a sublime panna cotta of fennel and avocado, refreshing and well balanced, just the palate cleanser required following the big flavours of the duck.
Dessert is always one of our favourite parts to any dinner, especially on tasting menus, having eaten quite a few dishes it will always be the course to be etched into your mind for good or bad. From the minute our eyes saw Baked Custard Tart as the dessert we had seriously high hopes. Not a hugely in vogue listing on many menus but a real childhood favourite of ours and paired with a dry Masottina Prosecco di Treviso Brut the only way this would have disappointed was if there was a serious disater in the kitchen. Thankfully this was not the case and we enjoyed our bubbles with a perfect blend of old and new. A simple but on point tart, with a tasty bite to the pastry was revamped to Michelin standards with striking blackberry sorbet, maple syrup, fresh blackberry, nutmeg and crunchy granola all thrown into the mix.
We finished the evening with a much needed strong cup of coffee and some Lady Helen petit fours, which much like the namesake were elegant and refined. The pistachio financier and apple & custard macaron were the stars on the night.
Mount Juliet has long been seen as one of the shining beacons of the Irish food scene, finishing our meal we totally understood how Ken Harker and the team have retained the star this year. They continue to strive to create innovative and consistently good plates of food but most importantly the quality of the food mirrors everything that Lady Helen embodies, pure class. As Coco Chanel once said “a lady should be two things : classy and fabulous”, here you’ll find both.
Our bill excluding service came to €231.60 and was worth every penny, next time we look forward to staying overnight and avoiding any taxis.
The is an Seductive Taste we highly recommend.
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.