Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt but as I left the bustling town of Westport to drive along the narrow roads of Mweelrea Mountain on my way to Delphi Adventure Resort recently, I was reminded what a truly beautiful country Ireland is. Mountain sheep wander freely here and I had to stop driving a number of times as they paused in front of my car to gaze disdainfully at me before languorously strolling away in search of fresh heathers and grasses to graze on. The Connemara countryside is wild, stunningly beautiful and unlike anything you would see elsewhere in the world.
Although the main purpose of my visit to Delphi was to dine in The Chef’s Table restaurant which opened there recently, I decided to avail of a relaxing one-night break away in the luxurious 4 star hotel accommodation which is also available. While Delphi is renowned for the exciting adventure sports and outdoor activities it offers, I was in search of something that would give me a chance to unwind after a busy few weeks. I found my time in Delphi soothing and peaceful, and I enjoyed every moment.
The Chef’s Table is a new venture by award winning German chef Stefan Matz, who many people will recognise from his time as Head Chef in Ashford Castle, The g Hotel and at Erriseask House where he was awarded a Michelin star.
The restaurant is warm and inviting with an open kitchen where you can observe Stefan cooking. I was lucky to get seated in a prime position beside the kitchen and was mesmerised watching the food being prepared. Although an à la carte menu is available I decided to try the 5 course tasting menu. Feeling in an indulgent mood I also elected to have the accompanying wine recommendations.
The breads in The Chef’s Table were some of the most interesting that I have eaten in a long while and included Pine Nut Brioche, Tarragon & Beer Bread, a Cornbread Roll, Garlic Cracker and Brown Treacle Bread all of which were well made and packed full of flavour. They came served with butter, olive oil and a rather addictive Romesco Sauce.
An amuse bouche of Sweet Potato Mousse, Sweet Potato Crisp and Carrot Leaf came simply presented in a shot glass. This possessed a clarity of flavour that made it the perfect opening to the meal. The mousse was light yet rich and creamy which made it incredibly pleasurable to eat. A successful amuse bouche should be a statement of intent and an indication of what is to follow. This mousse proved to be exactly that.
The next dish, a Salad of Killary Lobster and Porcupine Prawn, Baked Apple & Basil was beautiful to look at and not at all what I had expected on reading the menu. The lobster was presented as a paper-thin ribbon of mousse beside a refreshing salad of apple and prawn bound together in a creamy mayonnaise-type dressing which also included baked apple gel. A regal looking prawn sat on his salad throne surrounded by a halo of crisp dried apple. Porcupine prawns, so called because they are fished from the Porcupine Bank in the Irish Sea, are flavoursome little devils full of sweet but meaty flavours. Here, the prawn had been wrapped in threads of potato which were beautifully crispy against the soft meat of the prawn. I loved it. The accompanying Domain Felines Jourdan, Picpoul had enough acidity to cut through the richness of the lobster and prawns and to compliment the freshness of the apple and was a well-judged pairing.
Next up was the rather intriguing Fillet of Wild Salmon with Blackcurrant Vinaigrette. I have never considered eating salmon with blackcurrants before but this dish was a revelation. The blackcurrants provided a rich, tart and slightly acidic sauce that cut through the oily richness of the perfectly cooked top-quality salmon that had been caught locally in the River Erriff. This was a finely balanced dish that was exciting to eat. A glass of a light, dry Fleurie, Coeur de Granit was a perfect match as it didn’t overpower the oily salmon but stood up well to the blackcurrants.
I loved every part of the Cucumber Granita, Beer Jelly, Olive Oil Gel and Oat Crumb which was served next. Sorbets are often served as palate cleansers but in many ways the more crystalline nature of a granita works more effectively in this regard. This was a delicately presented dish that refreshed the palate yet re-energised it in preparation for the rest of the meal. I especially loved the beer jelly as its hop-rich earthiness provided a contrast to the intensely flavoured cucumber granita. An olive oil gel was an innovative addition that further soothed the palate.
Moving on, the Angus Fillet of Beef, Roasted, Smoked and Pickled, Button Mushrooms and Cream Potatoes, French Duck Foie Gras Crumble was a rich dish with autumnal overtones. Despite the fact that the wonderfully tender beef was served in three different ways, unity was achieved by subtle flavour variations and the use of a wonderful sauce that brought everything together in a cohesive way. A deeply savoury foie gras crumb provided textural contrast and was delicious. This was a real crowd-pleaser of a dish and one that would appeal to a broad audience. Washed down with a glass of a well-rounded and very drinkable Tour de Mirambeau which was soft and ripe on the palate, I was unable to stifle my sighs of satisfaction.
Baked Goat’s Cheesecake & Marmalade of Red Bell Peppers was a wonderful transition dish between the early parts of the menu and the dessert as sweet and savoury were cleverly balanced. A gently flavoured goat’s cheese had been used to create an interesting interpretation of a classic cheesecake which was velvety smooth and a joy to eat.
After all the wonderful food that I had eaten I was slightly concerned that I would struggle to finish the final course. I needn’t have worried as the Watermelon, Lime, Caramelised Ginger & Vanilla Ice-Cream was everything that a great dessert should be; full of fresh and zingy flavours but still indulgent and a little bit naughty. Compressed watermelon had been macerated in tomato juice which was inspired as the slight acidity of the tomatoes cut through the headily perfumed watermelon which tasted wonderful with the zingy lime curd and ginger shortbread crumb it was served with. I loved the accompanying La Grille Rosé D’Anjou with its hint of strawberries and apricot and thought it was wonderful with the dessert.
Along with Tea or Coffee the 5 course tasting meal (which included extra courses) came to €49 which, for the quality of the food I ate, represented astonishing value. Interesting wine pairings added to my enjoyment of the meal and added €35 on to the bill. Stefan Matz is producing outstanding food packed full of sophisticated flavour combinations using local ingredients and has developed a menu that has that most elusive quality – broad appeal. This is superb cooking in a beautiful location and I would recommend it without hesitation.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.