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Virginia Park Lodge review: The food in Richard Corrigan’s exclusive Irish hotel is good, but...

If you don’t like fish, get your coat. If you’re vegetarian, mention it in advance

Virginia Park Lodge
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Address: Ballyjamesduff Road, Virginia, Co. Cavan
Telephone: 049 854 6100
Cuisine: Irish
Cost: €€€

Wander into the Marquis room at Virginia Park Lodge, and you immediately wish the man himself was at home. There is a turntable, speakers and vinyl; a cabinet filled with whiskey, mescal and Calvados; and cookery books piled up on a side table – Plenty, Bocca di Lupo and his own tome, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons.

I interviewed Richard Corrigan in 2014, a few months after he snapped up the 100-acre Virginia Park Lodge estate for €1.2 million. He was busy ploughing considerably more into the restoration of its 18th-century hunting lodge. Since then, it has primarily been used as a wedding venue. Quite spectacular, I have heard. Especially when the beautiful couple tick the Corrigan-does-the-cooking box. But that is the exception. There was never an expectation that he would be cooking here, nor is he, when we arrive for dinner last Friday, just one day after they reopened.

Corrigan, as you’d expect, had been judiciously engaging when we chatted in 2014. On tasting menus: “12 courses of utter s***, lunatic stuff that food critics like”. On the food obsessed: “idiots with no brains” who read books on gastronomy about what the ancient Greeks and Romans ate. And on a la carte menus: “the reason there’s so much bad food – too much choice”.

As I glance through the €85, four-course dinner menu at Virginia Park Lodge, it is clear that he is a man of his word. It is a no-choice menu, drawn from what is seasonal, local and grown on the estate. If you don’t like fish, it’s probably time to get your coat; and if you’re a vegetarian, make sure to mention it in advance. From the wine list, almost as concise as the menu, we go for the Menade Verdejo 2018 (€43), an organic white wine from Rueda.


Garden leaves

We start with bocconcini, mini balls of mozzarella from Sheridan’s cheesemongers. Hidden beneath an Instagram-worthy tableau of red and yellow beetroot crisps, pansies and pretty garden leaves, the beetroot perhaps shows a little too much of the oil it has been crisped in, and a bit more dressing would have brought the salad together better. But the bread is top-notch. And when we’re offered another slice, we dive in.

Reputedly, there are 365 lakes in Cavan – I know, a suspiciously familiar number – but it does mean that when it comes to menu planning, trout is pretty much a prerequisite. The piece of trout on my plate for the second course is from Lough Sheelin, the largest lake in Cavan. With crispy deep-fried kale on top, this beautifully fresh fish is dusted with black and white sesame seeds, and is almost the texture of sushi. A few thin slices of radish and ginger add texture, and a little bit of soy sauce and citrus add a ponzu note. A tad more would have been good, and also a bit more of the horseradish with its touch of heat.

I am not quite feeling the Corrigan magic until the turbot lands. Simple. Pearly. Resplendently confident on just-wilted Boyne Marsh sea vegetables, which have been foraged by three chefs from the kitchen. Technically accomplished; the beurre blanc is the perfect consistency – buttery and balanced with just the right amount of acidity. The sea vegetables add a bit of fresh chlorophyll; and a side dish of baby new potatoes in butter, seaweed and chives is all that is needed.

Salty almond tuille

The dessert is a vanilla semolina cream, shielded by a slightly salty almond tuille – hiding stuff seems to be a thing – studded with raspberries that will probably shine a little brighter closer to their outdoor season, and white peaches.

So, four courses of good, but, apart from the turbot, not exceptional food. It is of course, so good to be back in a restaurant, so this may sound a bit more critical than you’d expect. But bear in mind that you need to stay overnight to get a table (about €200), because for now, it’s residents-only, and plans are on hold for outdoor dining. I am very aware that I am reviewing this restaurant just two days after hotel lockdown has lifted, and dishes that are assembly jobs to ensure consistency may well change.

But there is skill in this kitchen, and the service is particularly lovely. So, I can only imagine, that as we emerge from this haze, the talent here will shine through.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €213.

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column