I definitely clock up a lot of miles in my work for The Taste when I am tasked with seeking out and reviewing the best places to dine in around Ireland. Not that I’m complaining because, over the past year, I have visited many different parts of this island and have re-discovered a love for and a pride in the food that we produce in this country.
My travels recently brought me to Waterford and I asked friends who know the area well for recommendations on which restaurants I should visit. One name kept cropping up which immediately piqued my interest so I booked myself a table for an early evening meal in Bodéga! Restaurant & Wine Bar and was looking forward to discovering whether the enthusiastic endorsements were deserved!
Located on John Street in the heart of Waterford City, Bodéga! is easy to find as its bright orange/red frontage acts like a beacon attracting diners through its doors. Inside, the restaurant is surprisingly spacious despite initially seeming long and narrow. Decorated in bright jaunty colours with wooden tables and chairs and comfortable banquette seating along one side of the dining room, this is a place that makes you feel happy inside and brings a smile to your face.
I sometimes feel self-conscious when dining alone but the warm welcome and laid-back atmosphere in Bodéga! immediately put me at ease and I happily sipped on sparkling water as I examined the menu in greater detail. Three menus were offered on the evening that I visited: an Early Bird, an À La Carte and a Tastes Menu which, after some consideration, was the one that I decided to go for.
Although I had arrived early to the restaurant, a steady flow of customers meant that the tables soon began to fill up, creating a pleasant hum of chatter against the lively Spanish music playing in the background. I could feel myself relaxing as I nibbled on bread dipped in a fruity olive oil and waited for my meal to arrive.
The Tastes Menu comprises four courses with local produce being used throughout, where possible. First up was a snack consisting of ‘Rosettes’ of Carpaccio of Beef and Smoked Salmon. Both were presented simply without any unnecessary embellishments which I found appealing. The tender beef was partnered with small dots of a mild horseradish mayonnaise whilst the smoked salmon was drizzled with a rather zippy pickled onion dressing that was unbelievably moreish. I was impressed to learn that the salmon had been smoked in-house and I loved the depth of flavour that it possessed.
My second course, a Terrine of Elda Wild Dunhill Rabbit, Carrot Chutney & Grilled Bread, was an attractive looking dish consisting of a generous portion of the terrine with slices of griddled bread and a wonderful carrot ‘chutney’. This was, in reality, more like a pickle of grated fresh carrot but with its perfectly balanced sweet and sour notes, I felt that it was an ideal accompaniment for the rabbit terrine. Terrines can be bland with a tendency to dry out during cooking but this was a delight to eat. Wrapping the terrine in bacon during cooking helped to protect the lean rabbit meat whilst the inclusion of green peppercorns and cornichons gave the dish added oomph and texture.
Although a choice of duck or fish was offered for the main course I quickly decided on Billy Burke’s Dunmore East Brill, Dillisk Foam, Pea Purée & Warm Potato Salad. Presented on a speckled grey stoneware plate, this was a stunning looking dish that was begging to be eaten. Brill, with its sweet taste and firm texture, is a great favourite of mine and one that I order whenever I see it on a menu. The accompanying pea purée with its light and silky texture served to accentuate the natural sweetness of the fish whilst the chunks of warm potato gave the dish body and texture, creating pleasing sensations in the mouth. The dish was finished with a dillisk flavoured foam which was evocative of the spray that remains as the tide ebbs and flows against the coastline. This was an outstanding dish that pleased on so many levels.
I was torn between the Warm Chocolate Cake, Cherry Crisp, Chocolate Soil, & Cherry Ripple Ice-Cream and the Milleens Farmhouse Cheese, Honeyed Walnuts, Oatcakes & Apple Chutney for dessert and after a quick chat with my obliging waitress decided to order both. The brownie-like chocolate cake was dark and damp and had obviously been made using a good dark chocolate. Partnered with an excellent cherry-ripple ice cream and an intensely flavoured cherry crisp, this was a simple but decadent dessert.
I finished my meal with the cheese and oatcakes. I am a huge fan of Milleens – a washed rind, medium-soft Irish Farmhouse cheese with an orange, slightly sticky rind. Here it was served with superior oatcakes, a refreshing homemade apple chutney and rather addictive candied walnuts. This was a fitting end to a truly memorable meal which, for the quality of food offered on the four-course Tastes Menu, represented unbelievable value for money at €35 per person.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Waterford and was charmed by my meal in Bodéga! Talented Head Chef Jamie Dowling produces exciting food that is fun to eat. His cooking is accomplished and confident but he also has a lightness of touch that makes each plate of food irresistible. Service throughout my meal was exemplary and staff were enthusiastic and eager to please. Charismatic restaurateur Cormac Cronin has built a strong team in Bodéga! and has created a restaurant that is understandable popular. I would have no hesitation in strongly recommending it.
Bodéga! Restaurant & Wine Bar
54 John Street
T: 051 844 177
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.