Did I miss the memo about the dress code? Every man is in a smart shirt, looking fresh from a run over with the hotel room iron (the shirts not the men).
I’m in the diningroom of Sheen Falls, Kenmare’s other fancy hotel. It lives in the shadow of the Park and its celebrity owners. But that may be changing. Sheen Falls has had a revamp and I’m here because a friend had a great meal recently in the diningroom with its pianist, gleaming brass rails and whip-smart mostly French staff, who lift and place small tables like a ballet troupe in an interpretive dance meditation on furniture removal.
Hotel diningrooms tend to be old-fashioned places. But this meal kicks off with a bread that could be served in any Scandi-influenced, dark-painted room with exposed ducting. It’s a springy warm slice of rye bread the colour of wet shale, served with good butter at room temperature.
The good stuff kicks off with a beautiful plate of langoustines with a fluffy pea sauce and a foamy bisque made from the shells of this fiendishly delicious seafood
It is way better than the amuse-bouche, a small teacup of carrot and cumin soup. The soup is fine, but it’s just a one-note blandness. Really, I feel like asking the kitchen: “Is this your jazz hands?” My bouche is bemused.
But it’s all going to be all right in the end. The good stuff kicks off with the starter proper, a beautiful plate of langoustines with a fluffy pea sauce and a foamy bisque made from the shells of this fiendishly delicious seafood.
Under them there’s a mix of peas, tiny new broad beans barely bigger than pinkie fingernails and slivers of wilted wild garlic. The langoustines are so feathery they’re almost gritty, a world away from the rubbery prawns that live in warmer waters. It’s a brilliantly executed plate of food.
I’m staying at sea for the main course with poached Dover sole. It is served as a long cigar of fish which looks worryingly like it might be overcooked but turns out to be perfect. Inside the china white roll is soft, beautiful, almost sashimi sole. This is poaching light. Dotted along its length there is a verjus jelly with slices of black grapes giving sweetness and a tiny touch of tang.
There is a putty beige cauliflower puree and cauliflower florets roasted with a malted yeasty coating. Then there’s cauliflower mandolined thinner than a credit card to turn it into coral-like cross sections pickled in a sweet vinegar.
The combination of slow-cooked vegetable and just pickled freshness is like a serving of steak draped with carpaccio. Brassicas feel like they’ve been with us forever at this stage in the seasonal eating calendar. This cauliflower three ways puts life back into them as we prepare to ditch them for greener, newer things.
The French waiter talks for a good few minutes to a German couple about the pleasures of stinky cheese. 'My father always says, 'The best cheese? You call him. And he comes"
One of the pleasures of dining alone here is watching and listening to the staff as they make their way around the tables. The French waiter talks for a good few minutes to a German couple about the pleasures of stinky cheese. “My father always says, ‘The best cheese? You call him. And he comes’, ” the waiter tells them. The him being a cheese so ripe it has taken on a life of its own.
Dessert is faultless pastry cheffing, but leaves me a little sad. There’s a biscuit thin base on a rectangle, a dark chocolate parfait and squiggles of milk chocolate mousse piped on top. Plated with a passion fruit sorbet, it could be a dessert made and served anywhere in the world, Dubai to Dunboyne. I’d kill for some back garden rhubarb, buttery shortbread and clotted cream from a soot black Kerry cow.
You can’t eat the landscape, they tell you in this part of the world, but increasingly that’s what visitors want to do. We want to eat a story told in a beautiful place at a particular time when winter has melted and sap is rising.
Sheen Falls has some real kitchen talent. It’s got polish in spades and Cromane oysters on the menu. I’d like to see them ditch the “tomato and aubergine” paired with the oysters, because these can only be flown in at this time of the year. This is a kitchen that should be able to do wonders putting more of this place on to these gleaming white plates. Then it will be more than fine dining. It’ll be perfect eating.
Dinner for one with sparkling water came to €80.50
- Verdict A special place to eat
- Facilities Gorgeous
- Music Live piano, cruise ship smooth
- Food provenance Good. Pat Twomey of Star Seafoods and Sneem butcher Peter O'Sullivan get special mentions.
- Vegetarian options Limited