If there is one thing this freakishly hot weather we are experiencing is good for it’s getting people out and about discovering a few new boltholes and travelling a little further afield in search of some good grub and a cold one.
With that in mind we took a spin out last Friday to the far side of Kells, Co Meath in search of a well known restaurant set in a picturesque 18th century stone cut building. The Forge Restaurant as it is known was set up over seventeen years ago and lovingly renovated by husband and wife team Pauric and Irene White.
Fast forward to today and Pauric and Irene have decided to hang up their reins and hand them over to one of Northern Ireland top chefs, Raymond McArdle, who has worked with the likes of Paul Rankin and Michael Deane, two of the most celebrated chefs in the North.
McArdle, known as the “enfant terrible” in some culinary circles in Northern Ireland is without doubt a brilliant chef, however like many brilliant chefs he doesn’t mince his words and is not afraid to speak his mind with the odd F bomb thrown in or so urban legend has it.
We were surprised the Balmoral based chef had made the decision to venture down South, all be it only an hour’s drive from his home. However McArdle explained after dinner that he was looking for a fresh challenge that could attract visitors from both the North and the South so choosing a location on the border seemed like a wise one, especially if he can replicate the success the likes of Neven Maguire has had with MacNean House.
For full disclosure we arrived on what was technically their opening night so no doubt a few tweaks will be made to both the menu and decor (which remains mostly unchanged). Expect lots of equestrian nods and little antiques dotted throughout. The building was originally an actual forge back in 1870 where blacksmiths applied a different kind of heat to what you will find the kitchen these days.
McArdle has opted for a “locals friendly“ type of menu, all of the safe bets you would expect for the locality – a set menu for €40 for four courses represents good value however we decided on the a la carte.
First up was an almost luminous Pea Risotto with Ham Fritters, bursting with flavour and without doubt one of the finest risottos to have passed our lips in some time. This is where McArdle excels, turning a simple dish into a delicious flavour bomb that excites and satisfies at the same time.
Our second stater was a slightly more refined looking Port Oriel White Crab, slivers of apple, and an artichoke puree topped off with a rather dramatic looking coral tuille. First impressions count and there is nothing worse than trekking out to a beautiful location like this only to be disappointed by the food. We certainly were not.
Mains showed some good local provenance, our first choice – Fillet of Steak, was supplied by the local butcher who as it happened was dining at the next table so just as well we enjoyed it! McArdle knows his audience well it seems with generous portions sizes accompanying his consistently well executed dishes.
Our fillet was plated with some simple grilled asparagus and a drool-worthy potato gratin, all drizzled in a red wine jus. We rarely order steak on a menu as it can often be so bland but this was a true crowd pleaser.
SilverHill Duck also made an appearance in the guise of a stunning fillet cooked medium to rare, crisped with honey and spices and served with roasted beets and onions and a blob of vivid orange puree, reminiscent of a sunset on Mcardle’s beautiful plates (yes plate envy is a thing, don’t judge!). It is this kind of finesse, that comes so easily to this chef, which makes it unsurprising he has appeared on the Great British Menu to showcase his serious culinary skills.
For dessert we had some cracking options, McArdle being the chameleon he is has no need for pastry chefs, he’s more than capable of turning out a triumphant soufflé or a hot chocolate fondant. However we were in cheese county, five minutes from renowned Cheesemongers Sheridans who carry some of the finest selection of cheeses on our fair island.
Soufflés skipped, we sampled instead a simple board of Milleens, St.Tola Ash Goatscheese, Cashel Blue, Derg Cheddar and last but no means least a glorious Cois na Tire sheeps cheese.
The wine list, although still very much a work in progress, has some shining stars and is exceptionally well priced with some impressive choices at €26/€27 a bottle, in addition to the by the glass offerings ranging from €6 upwards.
McArdle has taken a hefty enough lease on with The Forge and it appears he plans on putting down some strong roots in this part of the world. Get rid of the white tablecloths and let the food do the talking because these dishes are some of the best we have sampled so far this year, and this new opening has now forged a special little place in our hearts.
Take a spin out to Carnaross because food this good simply cannot be ignored.
Dinner for two with two glasses of wine came to an astonishingly good value €95.50.
The Forge Restaurant
T: : +353 (0) 46 924 5003