It isn’t easy to cook with the pressure of television cameras weighing heavily on your every move, but chef Neal Kearns has made it look simple on numerous occasions, cooking up a storm on TV3’s Ireland AM. The Executive Head Chef at The Park Restaurant in Castleknock Hotel is clearly getting his name out there by showing off his skills and creativity on the show and I was keen to try out his creations myself.
A twenty minute drive outside the city, four star Castleknock Hotel borders Phoenix Park and is home a contemporary dining room draped in deep indigo hues with golden accents. The Park Restaurant is an elegant dining destination which feels distinct from the hotel itself, which isn’t an easy feat to achieve.
We were warmly welcomed by Restaurant Manager Andrew and shown to a window side table which no doubt offers stunnings views across the lush surrounding parklands during daylight hours. Our views for the night however, would be in the form of vibrant dishes with flair and imagination.
I was pleased to note that the menu’s opening page is a dedication to sourcing local ingredients from surrounding Liffey Valley, Wicklow and Kildare. It is clear from first glance at the menu that chef is not content to conform to the strictures generally associated with hotel restaurant food, there is something decidedly adventurous about his menu and his introduction asks guests to approach with an open mind.
The first dish off the bat on the extensive menu is a deliciously inventive sounding Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese Marshmallow – immediately demonstrating that provenance and playfulness are priorities of the chef in crafting his unique creations.
My starter of Castleknock Pan Fried Scallops arrived artfully plated and filling the air with a whiff of precious saffron. Five beautifully seared scallops sat atop a bed of silky cauliflower veloute, each bringing out the inherent sweetness in the other. Deeply savoury dehydrated black pudding and iron-rich spinach brought out the saline edge of lightly smoked Avruga caviar, which itself added a luxurious mouth feel to the dish. A final flourish saw a richly flavoured prawn bisque foam poured over what was a stellar scallop showcase, well balanced despite the many elements at play.
Across the table, another visually enticing dish of Duck Ravioli was presented on vibrant ceramics. Paper thin homemade pasta, which as the owner of a pasta machine I know isn’t always the case, encased melting tender duck leg slow cooked in a sticky BBQ sauce, gently spiced and sweet.
Crisp pak choi and spring onion added a green freshness and again showcasing interesting texture and flavour combinations, intense bacon and onion powder crowned the dish, adding an element of umami. A light duck and Guinness consomme was poured table side over the dish and perhaps would have been better on the side of what was an original and creative dish.
Main course was a meaty affair indeed with a Duo of Beef, again presented well and willing us to dive in. A pool of piquant tomato bacon jam was topped with blushingly pink sirloin which although juicy and flavoursome in it’s own right was outshone by the star of the dish – two bars of melting and luscious short rib.
This dish was the best of both worlds, as I often struggle to choose between the allure of ruby rare steak and delicious slow cooked rib, both of which were very well executed here and paired perfectly with a cloud-like quenelle of horseradish and celeriac mousseline and charred onion.
As dessert beckoned I found myself faced with an array of tempting options, and as the owner of a rather sweet tooth this is a good problem to have, although tough at the time – Chocolate and Chestnut Cake, Profiteroles with Tia Maria Mousse…In this instance I was safe in the knowledge that I would be treated to a sizable portion of my dining companion’s dessert, as he is far less of a sugar fiend, which eased my struggle considerably.
Opting for something a little different to my usual dark chocolate mania, Pear Soup with White Chocolate and Blackcurrant Mousse was a delight to behold, with a strikingly vibrant purple quenelle of blackberry sorbet packed with berried sweetness and almost autumnal flavour. Cubes of pear jelly and petite meringues added contrasting texture to a silky mousse in a sophisticated, well thought out dessert which packed a punch indeed.
A final nod to Chef’s ability to make fine food playful and whimsical, Chocolate Pizza appeared with little ceremony but plenty of impact on tasting. Warm ganache – milk, white and dark, spiked with orange zest – oozed over perfectly buttery crisp puff pastry, alongside vanilla ice cream and jugs of anglaise and raspberry coulis for eager drizzling.
While it couldn’t compete with it’s fellow dessert in the looks department, this dish proved that sometimes simplicity is key. This dish was entirely delicious and thoroughly enjoyed (minus a slice or two…) by my dining companion, so much so that I feel I shall have to badger the kitchen team for the recipe, just in case!
Heading back in to the city, we agreed that the dishes designed by Chef Neal had been inviting, well crafted and thoroughly enjoyable. Taking pride in provenance and producing interesting dishes should be the standard in hotel restaurants and The Park is aiming to push the boundaries in this regard, refusing to conform to the run of the mill crowd-pleaser dishes which so often fail to impress.
The Park Restaurant currently holds an AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence, meaning it is a stand out destination in it’s local area, displaying cuisine crafted with care and skill. The quality of ingredients employed in contemporary and imaginative ways certainly merit this distinction and the creativity at play will surely lead Neal to a second. This is a restaurant door worth knocking on.
The Park Restaurant,
Castleknock Hotel & Spa,
T: +353 (0)1 640 6300
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.