We headed south to the Irish coast and the small, classy seaside resort of Ardmore with its sandy Atlantic beaches and cliffs hanging over the sea, very much like Dover, but not white! The Cliff House is a gorgeous modern Relais et Chateau establishment literally hanging on the side of the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; the site alone will make you swoon. For eight years, Dutch chef Martijn Kajuiter has hailed supreme here and retained his Michelin star; he deserved more than one as this was an overall experience we shall put on the top 10 list for sure.
We were ushered to our sea view table that sported fresh crisp white linens (the décor was modern, yet simple, so as not to steal from the sea or the food) and a floor to ceiling window so we could see forever. Here, house filtered (with lime from the local cliffs) still and sparkling is offered and an array of breads arrived including Fennel (which I often don't like, but adored), Spelt with honey and thyme glaze and a Seaweed Brioche with sea salt that was superb. Smoked and whipped butters were made with organic sea salt; simple yet very tasty.
We were immediately drawn to the amazing tasting menu for 95 Euros(about $107) and the accompanying wines for another 50Euros($56), but Samuel wasn't feeling that hungry and did not like a number of the courses, so we asked if he could order a la carte. They usually require the whole table to do the tasting menu for serving timing, but the staff was more than accommodating. I say staff, as we did not have one server, we had a team of at least five who were there at every moment to pour water, wine, refill the bread or just make sure we didn't lack anything.
We all received an array of amuses that would not only dazzle the eye, but wow the palate. The first was called "Edible Stone" and was a baby potato with an edible clay coating to make it look like a stone and mint mayo. Next was a beetroot macaroon with goat cheese, which we have seen often (also with foie gras), but all adore. Third was the Warm Onion Soubise with Cheddar Cheese Foam and Toasted Hazelnuts, a "soup" that was sublime.
Our tasting started with an array of "The HOUSE STARTERS" which were as amazing to eat as they were to see:
West Cork Scallop came with Sweet Corn Puree, Sea Spinach Coulis & Irish Caviar made with Black Garlic and Kohlrabi.
Duck Foie Gras arrived under a dome with Milk, Lismore Girolles, Black Olive Crumb and was on an Herb & Mushroom Cracker.
The highlight was the Dungarvan Rock Oyster in an Asian-style Citrus with Basil and a creamy "Dutch Salad" of potato, onion and cucumber. It sat atop a "plate" that was a high white tree trunk made from cut stone looking a lot like a white lava rock and was topped with Yuzu Basil Foam and Saffron Puffed Rice. At this point my phone was malfunctioning, so photos can be seen on the FB page of Will Mark Stevenson; don't miss them. The wine wasa Mas De Daumas Gassac 2013 from Languedoc by V. Guibert de la Vassiere made from a Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc & Petit Mensang blend that we adored; sadly this wine is imported for the hotel alone, and the sommelier said it was be virtually impossible to find!
Samuel ordered a starter of Bantry Bay Organic Salmon which sounds simple but the huge plate arrived with a Ballotine of Salmon, Iced Salmon, Marinated Salmon in Beetroot a that was Nori Wrapped (like sushi), House Cured Salmon with Caviar, Maplewood Smoked Salmon Ice Cream, Pickled Vegetables, Herbs and Horseradish. This was also our next course after the huge array and presentation of the starters. There was also Broccoli Puree and an Asian gel and a compressed broccoli stem and compressed gluten-free pastry. At this point, we began to notice the many colorful edible flowers on each plate, and I began to ask what they were. Here we had Borage and Marigolds;none were bitter as flowers can be, and the color was amazing. Gels also abounded with one standout being the "gin & tonic," also used on the next course as well as a green pea shoot gel. Our pairing for this was a Sake Akashi-Tai from Honjozo, Japan which just took this "Asian" dish to even higher heights (although Will is not a big sake nut).
Our next course was Spring Chicken & Lobster with a Foamy Lobster Bisque (the word bisque here used too loosely), cherry tomato, lobster and salad with avocado and grapefruit. The gels were again "gin and tonic," basil, grapefruit, lettuce and garlic. There was a grilled spicy onion as well as a"Chicken Snap" akin to a pork rind but more like a cracker that was made from chicken skin and salted. The flowers were white borage and cucumber (which looked like a zucchini flower, but was much larger). The wine was a Chateau de la Coste Bellugue Rose 2013 made from Syrah, Grenache & Cinsault that our sommelier added on request as this course came without a wine (impossible!).
At this time, Samuel's main course of McGrath's Black Angus Beef arrived in the form of a huge Grilled Fillet and Sausage with Parfait Dome, Garden Spinach, Potato in the form of Irish Colcannon(here with spring onion, sausage and celery), Grilled Celeriac and Kilbeggan Whiskey (where we had just visited a couple of days earlier). Presented at tableside was blend of garden herbs(rosemary, sage, bay, thyme, parsley, white garlic) which was blended with Beef Jus into a Beef Tea which was poured over the meat. Not only was the dish sublime, the whole presentation was worthy of an Oscar.
Our next course was Corvina "Italian Seabass" which was with Ratatouille in the form of BabaGhanoush Quenelles, Fried Purple basil, Saffron. The fish was top notch, as all the fish and meat in Ireland was, and had a Bell pepper Puree and here the gel was oregano. Perhaps the simplest of dishes visually, but the taste was amazing. The wine was a Spatburgunder 2013 from M. Runkel in Rheinhessen, Germany.
A palate cleanser of stupendous Carrot Sorbet was next and this was followed by our Irish Rose Veal which was roasted and served with breaded Sweetbreads, Fried Gnocchi, Green Asparagus, Kohlrabi & Spinach in a Veal Jus with a mushroom puree. The sommelier opened the Quadrifolia wine 2014 from Douro Portugal and declared it was not just right for the dish (the 2013 was on the menu, but they had run out and the newer vintage was a bit too young). He poured it anyway, and also offered us a full glass of a rare 2011 Moroccan wine from Meknes called Volubilia made from 50% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Termpranillo which we liked much more than the Douro.
Desserts were just as exciting and even more novel with Seabuckthorn (an orange berry that grows on the seaside cliffs nearby) with Puffed Rice Meringue, Cream, Vanilla, and Hops in a Syrup made from dried fruits. The dish was tasty, but Will begged to differ saying the seabuckthorn was quite bitter. A wonderful Kracher 2012 Cuvee Beernauslese was just the right touch. This wine is usually lighter than the better trockenBeerenauslese from Kracher, but the sweetness made the dish taste even better for me.
The final touch was called Organic Chocolate 65% and featured "alto el Sol" from Peru, vintage 2013 and "Madrifolo" from Madagascar, vintage 2012. Who knew chocolate had vintages? There was White Coffee Ice Cream and Coffee Grounds and Sea Salt as well as olive Olive Oil, combined to make a large Relais et Chateau fleur de lys symbol which had sherry and 24karat gold as well. A Peruvian Chocolate/Seabuckthorn Puree was also in evidence. This was indeed the perfect ending to a visually thrilling and tongue tantalizing evening, which I would repeat in a flash!