Sometimes you look at a menu and there it is: the money shot. Roast bone marrow drives a resolute Fergus Henderson stake into the ground. You simply have to order it. It’s a much-copied dish, a nose-to-tail icon that has been on the menu at St John since Henderson opened his renowned London restaurant, in 1994. Canons of roasted bone, day-old sourdough toast, and a parsley salad. It sounds simple. But cook it for a few seconds too long and the marrow starts to pool and stream away.
At Neighbourhood, a rather beautiful new restaurant in Naas that opened in December, the bone marrow with sourdough flatbread (€14) is a Flintstones-size chunk, hewn vertically with a cleaver, introduced to a polite level of heat and placed on a folded white napkin in an aesthetic high-low collision.
Sourdough starter, which otherwise would have been discarded, brings a distinctive nip to each quarter of the crisp circle of flatbread, waiting to be loaded with the hot, trembling marrow, which is mixed through with a light touch of roast onion, thyme and Coolatin cheese. It is sublime.
But worthiness, backstories and tasting menus are not what this food is about. Yes, the produce is top tier and seasonal, but what you get on this one-pager menu of snacks, small plates and larger dishes is a blast of sheer joy.
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Comté croquettes (€8) are dabbed with dill emulsion and jalapeno, yielding a warm stream of loveliness; beef tartare is mixed with smoked eel on beef-dripping potatoes (€10); and tender sweetbreads, deep-fried in golden breadcrumbs (€15) are, I am surprised to discover, quite happy to be paired with charred corn and onion in a rich sauce punctuated with black garlic.
Dublin Bay prawns (€12) – sometimes called langoustines – are threaded on to four sprigs of rosemary. Let’s focus here for a minute. These are quite different from tiger or king prawns. They are not farmed in the southern hemisphere, frozen, shipped a zillion miles and slapped in batter. They are local, landed fresh on our shores, and when they’re delicately grilled, topped with a yielding slice of opaque lardo, and placed in a square, around a pool of aioli that is worthy of an Only Fans page, you need to pay attention. Few people relish the prospect of sucking a prawn’s head – and I’m not going to suggest you do, at least not today – but this aioli does all the visceral hard work. Savoury head juices are spun into an ephemeral emulsion with a touch of chicken fat, vanishing from the tongue with a carnal memory of sweetness, pleasure and a longing for more.
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Oh dear, there’s probably no topping that, yet all the dishes that follow are delicious. Squid noodles (€14), with strips of pickled kohlrabi and shards of toasted kelp, are bathed in a smoked-bacon dashi that is so good I want to finish every drop. There is no spoon – a mistake, perhaps? I lift the bowl and slug it right down.
Duck breast (€34), from the larger-plate section, is cooked with precision, the fat rendered, the skin crisp, and the flesh rare without feral minerality. That’s what you get with salt ageing. A bottle of Vina Albergada Tempranillo (€38), from a well-chosen wine list that quickly heads north of €50, does an honourable job of working through our meal.
And then it’s on to dessert, a confection that is part baked Alaska enveloping a parfait of Velvet Cloud yogurt (€11), and a load of other bits – yuzu apple sorbet, sorrel ice, and an apple ice wine jelly with Scoby energy. It’s as if a parfumeuse had a hand (or a nose) in constructing the assemblage.
Fermoyle plates, Riedel glasses, a hand-cranked grill and a stunning menu – what’s happening in Naas? It’s degrees of separation. Jordan Bailey, the head chef at the two-Michelin-star Aimsir, consulted on the menu; the manager, Antonia Leece, is ex-Aimsir; and so too is Kevin Hegarty, the bar manager and cocktail supremo. Gareth Naughton, that intrepid pair of safe hands in the kitchen, is ex-L’Ecrivain and Circa.
Neighbourhood wears its provenance lightly. It is a restaurant where you can order what you like – small plates or a solid three-courser – and pour your own wine or get a pint from the bar. It may feel casual, but make no mistake, this is Michelin-level food. It just remains to be seen whether the inspectors get to visit before releasing their new guide in March.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €156.
THE VERDICT I wish this was in my neighbourhood
Music: Background lounge and ambient
Food provenance: Sustainable Seafood, Glenmar Shellfish, JJ Young meats, Feighcullen Farm ducks, Kilruddery Organic Farm
Vegetarian options: Comté croquettes, burrata, and large plate of hay-baked celeriac and cep pie. Vegan on request
Wheelchair access: Accessible, with accessible toilet