Subscriber OnlyRestaurants

Keith Boyle at the Bridge House review: This restaurant is a serious contender for a Michelin star

Delicious, precise cooking with lots of ambition in a formal dining room

Keith Boyle at the Bridge House
    
Address: Kilkenny River Court Hotel, The Bridge, John Street, Kilkenny
Telephone: 056 781 3225
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€€

In the days before Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, much of my intel on new restaurant openings was gleaned from the acerbic musings of well-informed diners on an internet forum (remember them?) called eGullet. Apart from the forensic dissection of menus, there was always speculation about whether a new hopeful had the prerequisites to land a Michelin star.

Among the ways to determine this was “the napkin test”, devised by Dos Hermanos, two London-based food blogging brothers. Acing the test is predicated on what happens to a diner’s napkin when they pop out to the bathroom. Is the napkin refolded? How is it refolded, and is the operation performed in a timely fashion, without resort to a last-minute skirmish? Maximum points are awarded if it is replaced with a brand new folded napkin.

Kilkenny’s newest restaurant, Keith Boyle at the Bridge House, passes the napkin test with aplomb. While not quite tipping in at maximum points (because really, a new napkin is a bit excessive), the attention to detail is top-tier Michelin playbook. The starched, white linen tablecloth is combed for crumbs between courses, gloved tableside service is on hand for saucing, broth pouring and truffle shaving, and there are multiple visits from the kitchen.

It is, of course, a tasting menu, and we’ve settled in for what turns out to be a three-hour marathon on a Sunday afternoon, starting with the most delicious three-year-old Parmesan cheese gougère on the €80 lunchtime menu. The slightly longer dinner menu is €120; so yes, the hefty prices have plenty of Michelin energy about them too.


Course after intricate course comes embellished with caviar, gold leaf or a flurry of Australian winter truffle, finished with aromatic herbs and tiny flowers. There is as much tweezering as there is skill in the kitchen with both of Keith Boyle’s sous chefs hailing from Michelin stock, being ex-Aimsir and ex-Aniar.

A filled egg shell reveals layers of flavour – soft egg yolk, warm potato, crunchy chicken skin and black truffle; a canelé is filled with a foie gras mousse and topped with frozen foie gras; but the show stopper is a Dooncastle oyster, the most original dish I have eaten this year. Skilfully handled for a dish that is so complex, it is fresh, aromatic and tastes magically of itself. The oyster is encased in a gellée made from its juices and topped with caviar, and this sits on a bed of finely diced cucumber in a leche de tigre dressing, perfumed with lemongrass and ginger with a splash of buttermilk for extra acidity.

We have ordered a bottle of Domaine Trosset 2021 (€48), a crisp white wine from the Savoie region of France made from the Jacquère grape, which works beautifully with the parade of dishes.

A clever fish dish follows, Goatsbridge trout that has been salted, firmed up and served sashimi style with smoked pike roe, sorrel sabayon and a beguiling iriko dashi. The tempura belly on the side is perhaps an unnecessary additional bite, the trout revealing its pedestrian roots served this way, although caviar elevates it somewhat.

Moving on to meat, a fillet of Kilkenny rosé veal is juicy and tender, served with a rich sauce Périgueux dotted with black truffles.

More skill is evident in the desserts. A rich but light chocolate ganache is lifted with the fresh flavours of calamansi sorbet, finished with the nutty notes of honey Hungarian truffles. An equally substantial second dessert follows, a take on summer trifle with strawberries, white chocolate, elderflower curd and ladyfingers, garnished with little sticks of meringue. And of course there are petits fours to finish, a raspberry sablé Breton and a piña colada pâte de fruit.

This is very much a fine-dining experience, and unashamedly so. Clearly, there is a lot of ambition. Boyle and his wife Carmel, who oversees front of house and the carefully compiled wine list, have resolutely moved up a notch since I ate in their previous restaurant in 2021, the Lady Anne, in Castlecomer.

To put that in context, it should be noted that Boyle was running the kitchen on his own at that time, yet there seems to be a bit more maturity to his current menu. It could do with a bit of editing, and certainly some of the side dishes such as the trout tempura and a veal tartare would seem to be extraneous, but it is without doubt impressive. Impressive enough for Michelin to be watching the progress here very carefully.

Lunch for two with a bottle of wine was €208.

THE VERDICT: Precise, very delicious food for special occasion dining

Music: Background jazz

Food provenance: Kilkenny Rosé Veal, Ballymakenny Farm, Glenmar Seafood, Dooncastle, La Rousse, Petrossian Caviar

Vegetarian options: Vegetarian tasting menu with advance notice; there is no vegan menu

Wheelchair access: Accessible with accessible toilet

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

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