Inis Meáin dining: elemental cooking in a calm oasis
The bedrooms may book out immediately but it doesn’t mean you can’t eat in this wonderful restaurant
Ruairí and Marie-Thérèse de Blacam in the polytunnel where they grow produce for their Inis Meáin Restaurant.
Inis Meáin Restaurant & Suites is a unique restaurant and boutique hotel, although they call it neither hotel nor boutique. Situated on the island of the same name, the small, low stone-clad building can be hard to spot, nestling amongst the thousands of dry stone limestone walls that are everywhere. Run by Ruairí de Blacam, who grew up on the island, and his wife Marie-Thérèse, it is a tranquil, calm oasis on a small peaceful island.
As an anniversary and birthday treat, we had booked into a local B&B for two nights, allowing us to enjoy dinner at the restaurant. Marie-Thérèse had argued that the island deserved at least two days to reveal all of its charms – and she was right.
A last-minute cancellation meant we were able to stay in one of the Inis Meáin rooms as well. The five rooms are booked up for the entire 2019 season and generally sell out very quickly on launch each year. See inismeain.com/book for availability and cancellations.
The rooms are a minimalist’s dream – all stone, cement, glass and wood, they seem to mirror the sparse beauty and peace of the Inis Meáin landscape, while still exuding a genuine warmth.
Included in the price (it is not cheap) is breakfast, delivered to your door in a beautiful wooden box/tray, and lunch, a rucksack filled with homemade soup and bread, ready to take with you on a walk (or cycle; bikes also provided) around the island. The views out over the landscape are stunning.
The restaurant seats 16, usually residents and, on Wedndesday, Friday and Saturday, other visitors to the island. It sits proudly looking out on a wonderful vista of rock and sea.
Ruairí, who trained in Italy, France and Dublin, does the cooking. Marie-Thérèse is front of house, as well as looking after the garden and wine list. The four-course, no-choice menu plus amuse-bouche is €75 per guest.
This is food with an impeccable provenance. Protein usually takes the form of locally-sourced seafood. Earlier on the afternoon of our visit, Ruairí pointed out ‘his’ fishing boat on its way in to the harbour. Whenever possible, the vegetables, herbs and fruit are from the garden and polytunnel around the side of the building.
We started with a brochette of lobster served with the lightest mayonnaise, alongside softly spicy rocket and other pristine leaves. This was followed by cauliflower with watercress, the cauliflower served seared and puréed, the watercress providing peppery punch. Vegetables are given a course of their own – Inis Meáin primi, jokes Ruairí. Our main course was turbot, perfectly cooked in a parchment parcel with herbs and tomato, alongside magical spuds from the lazy beds (a real misnomer) just down the road.
The second evening of our visit, we started with a bowl of pristine mussels and clams, sweet and briny, followed by a perfectly dressed delicate salad of courgettes, radishes and fennel. Our main course was monkfish served on a bed of Madeira lentils.
Amuse bouches included a potato skin stuffed with smoked mackerel one evening, an impeccably fresh oyster topped with a beetroot caviar the next. Desserts were a hedonistic burnt cheesecake one night, a crisp refreshing Amalfi lemon tart the next.
This is food, like the rooms, stripped down to its bare essentials, Every flavour seems magnified, “elemental cooking”, according to Ruairí, relying on the quality of ingredient rather than myriad foams, emulsions and sauces.
The short but impeccably chosen drinks list is put together by Marie Thérèse each year. It includes a range of craft beers, alcohol-free drinks and a mouthwatering selection of wines, including some from JC Ramonet (sourced from Bill Kelly of Kelly’s Resort Hotel, who has one of the finest collections of wine in the country). There is a welcoming pub (the only pub) a short stroll up the road – ideal for an aperitif or digestif.
Outside, the landscape is sparse, almost lunar, with no trees to be seen. In the sunshine, a walk along the seashore, the Cliffs of Moher in the distance over the dazzling blue sea, or half an hour simply sitting staring out into the Atlantic, was magical. Above all, it was quiet, the occasional car simply emphasising the peacefulness. This is a special place.
See inismeain.com. To make a dining reservation, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Advance reservations are required.