Growing up in Schull chef Rob Krawczyk was greatly influenced by his parent’s culinary prowess and following a stint living abroad, it was the wonders of West Cork that drew the chef home. Rob and his partner Elaine opened an intimate 18 seater restaurant in Ballydehob and in less than a year the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star. Sitting in a former pub, you can still see evidence of the former watering hole, the windows bearing signs for Murphys and Guinness Stout.
Wanting to escape the Christmas madness myself and my mam headed to Cork for a few days before the big day, to relax and unwind. I may have had an ulterior motive when I suggested we visit the Rebel County. Ballydehob is less than two hours from the city, it would be wrong not to pay a visit!
Stepping into Chestnut I’m immediately struck by how laid back and relaxed it feels. Michelin dining is a special event no doubt, but sometimes dare I say, it can be a little stuffy. But here we’re instantly welcomed with big smiles, and our waitress Tara shows us to our table.
A mere four days before Christmas and we were about to enjoy a tasting menu in one of Ireland’s newest Michelin star restaurants. Evidently, both myself and mammy Smyth were on the nice list this Christmas. The tasting menu is shockingly great value (€65.00) each and delivers on quality and flavour with every single dish.
To begin freshly baked bread was served with turf smoked butter. Bread and butter is my weakness, a trait I inherited from my mother, and between the two of us we polished it off in record time. Tara thoughtfully gave us even more butter to slather on our bread (no judgments here, it was delicious).
To kick-start our taste buds we enjoyed Celeriac & Young Buck. Thin slices of celeriac enveloped rich and creamy cheese.
My mother isn’t a lover of fish, she credits this to a trip to Kerry in her youth, where she thought her entire family “had gone mad” as she watched them pick periwinkles from their shells with sewing needles.
The kitchen had thoughtfully prepared alternative dishes for her, with her first snack of the evening a crisp ball of Jerusalem Artichoke. I enjoyed stone coloured Squid Cracker & Dill, which came topped with dots of squid mayo and vibrant dill emulsion.
The first dish of the evening for me came in the form of Mussels, Seaweed and Tapioca. A warming butter based sauce encased tender mussels from nearby Bantry Bay, and seaweed. Delicate pearls of tapioca, a nod to the modern trends of spherification and light as air dill foam completed the dish.
Across the table, my mother was served Beetroot and Three-Cornered Leek. A vibrantly purple dish of earthy beetroot with tiny morsels of leek bulbs. A mouthful of beetroot with the robust garlic element of the leek paired perfectly, cutting through the beetroot.
Up next for me was an elegant dish of Scallops with Parsley and Yeast and for my mother Cauliflower & Cheese. The former featured perfectly cooked scallops accompanied by a silky smooth cauliflower and yeast purée, lightly sprinkled with powdered parsley. A dish so divine even the non-fish eater across the table loved it.
Mams dish of roasted cauliflower was completely moreish, with a generous coating of grated parmesan and more of that gorgeous purée that graced my plate.
To round off the starter element of our meal, we were served a palate cleanser of whiskey and marmalade foam. A strong but refreshing way to revitalise our palates.
My next course was Hake with Kale and Truffle. What can only be described as ethereal, this locally sourced fish from Union Hall was flavourful and flakey, sitting on top of deliciously crisp kale. Adorned with a dusting of truffle to take the dish up a notch, this was one of the highlights of the evening.
My mother enjoyed Shooting Broccoli with Hamfat and Truffle. The plate looked vivid and full of greenery, a complete feast for the eyes. Tender stems of broccoli were complimented with salty slivers of ham fat with gentle hums of truffle shining through.
Now came my favourite dish of the evening, one I shall rave about until I go hoarse. Wild Deer with Salsify and Nasturtium Seed Capers was not only a stunning looking plate of food but followed through on flavour and culinary skill.
Meaty and perfectly pink venison was served with slivers of salt alongside a golden pumpkin purée that I could happily eat a bowl of. A brilliant jus married the whole dish together with the nasturtium capers adding pops of vinegary flavour.
Our first sweet treat of the evening was Chocolate with Beetroot and Pistachio. A decadent mousse of luscious chocolate sat atop crunchy biscuit, giving the dish a layer of texture. A cobweb of light chocolate biscuit shimmering with sugar held up pistachio crumb that reminded me of moss on wood, echoing the West Cork landscape.
Apple with Yoghurt and Clove was the following dish. A remarkably simple looking dish that knocked my socks off. A sabayon of apple that was sinfully airy was the star of the plate. A spoonful of this whipped delight, was to me, like sinking a spoon into a deep filled apple pie complete with buttery pastry, yet the texture was weightless.
A cheese course showcased Durrus cheese sourced from just over 10 miles away from the restaurants. Durrus Cheese with Rose Hip was a cheese lovers dream. Served with a Parmesan cracker, this semi-soft cows cheese was a delightful bite.
Following our feast, we lingered over a pot of coffee and enjoyed our last morsel of Michelin magic – petit fours of blackcurrant jelly. Another flawless piece of cooking. We spent three leisurely hours in Chestnut and while we physically never left our seats we were undoubtedly taken on a journey around West Cork.
Rob’s cooking is full of passion and his love for the landscape around him is evident in every bite. Culinary perfection mixed with warm and attentive service makes this restaurant exceptional. If Chesnut somehow isn’t on your bucket list for 2019 it should be. The trip to this picturesque part of the country is more than worth it.
The Chestnut Tree
T: 028 25766
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH