Going out: Kildare restaurant is a star in the making

Creativity and craft make this new venture a cut above the rest

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Canteen Celbridge

  • Irish

The main street is cloaked in fog and darkness and the GPS is having an existential crisis. We’re in a town where the streets have no numbers and are about to ask a human for help when we realise we have arrived. Some kind of homing instinct has drawn us right to the discreet door of Canteen Celbridge, like bees to a pollen patch.

Outside all is chilly stillness. Inside the door which is up a short laneway there is such a buzz we will struggle to hear each other as the night goes on. But that’s okay. Just as airline food is more strongly seasoned to combat the noise of the jet engines, James Sheridan’s cooking can rise above the exuberance. And, of course, I can communicate in swoons, grins and swapped forkfuls of beautiful food.

James and his partner Soizic Humbert brought their Canteen to Celbridge when they moved from a tiny space in Dublin’s Blackrock Market a year ago. They cut their cloth in 2014 to open their first place and turned a greasy spoon into a great restaurant.

Their successors Andrew Heron and Damien Grey bagged a Michelin star in October and credit Sheridan and Humbert with paving their way to stardom. It is a good deal easier to get a booking in the Canteen Celbridge. Heron & Grey is booked out till autumn 2017.

When I last ate his cooking Sheridan was serving a set menu. Here there are options, although we are on a set price €42 menu, its being December. They return to a la carte options in the new year. Canteen Celbridge is a long room with a wall of glass behind us, decorated in nice greys with school chairs and bare wooden tables.

To kick off the fun Taleggio cheese is wrapped in a house tortellino and served in a meaty onion broth with teeny onion rings of crispy shallots on top. It’s got all the savoury and sweet meld of a French onion soup except with silken pasta instead of soggy bread.

A salad isn’t the usual tumble of stuff on a plate but exquisitely arranged in a circle like a garland, with warm, soft chunks of roasted pumpkin interspersed with other tastes and textures. There’s a disc of raw, pickled pumpkin as cheerful as a smiley face emoji. Knocklara sheep’s cheese has been crumbled on top, along with tooth-squeaking samphire, sage and baby nasturtium leaves still on their stem.

I have the braised pig’s head, a solid round that looks like it came out of a tin but crumbles into soft strings of pork and stuffing, a roast dinner compressed. It comes with smoked beetroot which is (and here’s a word worn threadbare by overuse) properly amazing, a mouthful of earthy sweetness followed by a bonfire tang that stays after you have swallowed. There’s a sticky fennel gravy to finish a knockout plate of food.

A Black Angus steak is charred smoky on the outside but is still bright and juicy inside. Alongside it there’s a tiny slab of corned beef, cut to look like a slice of bread. It is topped with a tangle of mustardy leek like marmalade on toast, with dreamy pureed spuds and the rest of the leek charred on top.

I have another beautifully arranged plate, a fillet of brill finished in brown butter dotted with Jerusalem artichokes, roasted and peeled so they look like globe artichokes and also crisped into tiny orange rounds to be sprinkled on top. There are chanterelles tucked in there too and luscious chunks of scallop. House gnocchi make it three types of potato on the table, finished with a bowl of smashed queens with fresh diced scallions and a fair schlep of butter stirred into them.

Desserts keep up the standard. The star on the salt chocolate plate is a tuile of chocolate and pecans, crisp as parchment paper and a reminder that pecans are the king of the nut pile.

I get an apple tart tatin, utterly simple with the chunks cut thickly so they retained their soft appleness inside. It’s on a disc of flaky pastry that in a lesser restaurant would be the soggy forgotten bit of the meal. Here it’s not. Two chocolate and peanut truffles send us out into the freezing fog smiling.

James Sheridan has moved on from his tiny, bite-sized restaurant without losing any of the creativity or craft that made it such a hit. He has several stars hanging in his packed restaurant as tasteful Christmas decorations. Michelin doesn’t give a monkey’s what I think but Canteen Celbridge is up there with our other one-star venues.

Celbridge is a 20-minute drive from Dublin city centre, even in fog. It even has a “01” telephone number. So go. A restaurant like this deserves to be fully booked even after the party-goers pack away their black velvet for another year.

Dinner for two with one glass of wine came to €90.70.

Canteen Celbridge, 4 Main Street, Celbridge, Co Kildare. Tel: 01-6274967

Music: Too loud to tell. Could have been a brass band compilation for all I could hear

Food provenance: Good for cheese Knocklara, Durrus, Young Buck and Killeen named

Facilities: Chilly but fine

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Vegetarian menu can be requested

VERDICT: 8½/10. Celbridge has a destination restaurant