Not everyone has mates who will willingly part with €95 for food, plus wine, plus €100 taxi fare. Each way. But that's what you need to get one of the nine tables that seat four to six people at Allta Summer House in the grounds of Slane Castle.
Luckily, we’re friends with the gastronomes, who will travel any distance for good food. Even to elBulli, where we first met them. And they offer to drive. #Goals.
Allta Summer House is chef and Allta co-owner Niall Davidson’s response to a summer of outdoor dining. After researching the top producers, with the input of Boyne Valley locals, the GastroGays, he and the Allta team spent four weeks building a kitchen, and setting up a dining room under an incredibly beautiful South African stretch tent. He has the scars to prove it.
Smoke wafts from open fires, one in a parilla ( a Basque grill), another in a Gozney wood burning oven. All the rest feels pure Noma. It’s by the water, the wooden bench seats have faux sheepskin fleeces, and wild flowers tumble from metal pipes high above each table. It’s breathtaking.
The 12-course, no choice, menu is all new, with no Allta dishes. And so too is the superb organic wine list. It warms my heart to see that the cheapest white is not a Sauvignon Blanc, but Cantine Rallo ‘Ciello’ Bianco, €34, a Catarratto from Sicily, which works perfectly with our meal.
Highlights include a summer broth, poured from a glass teapot into small earthenware bowls, which have a slug of green, grilled cucumber oil on the bottom. It is tomato in its purest form; intense, yet light and ethereal, revealing layers of flavour, velvety like a fine Burgundy, over top notes of cucumber, lemon balm, and mint.
Cromane oysters, an Allta staple, are scented with a sorrel granita, and local Dexter beef is given the tartare treatment. The precise cubes of meat with filaments of smoked egg yolk sit on a buckwheat crisp, slicked with buckwheat miso, bringing crunch to this exhilarating savoury bite. A little less successful is the lobster crudo, the fine slices of lobster just a little lost in the dressing of white soy, green strawberries, crème fraiche and pea puree.
House made haloumi arrives blistered black from the oven, with a heady smoked aubergine and McNally Farm broad beans, sitting in an intense consommé. I desperately need some Ølands wheat sourdough to mop this up. My only complaint.
The crescendo builds on this cleverly paced menu. Tentacles of squid, pressed into dark brooding squid ink, contrast with a terracotta Romeseco sauce with a punch of heat from scorpion chilli miso.
And then, so our palates don’t get overwhelmed, we have flatbreads. More seductive flavours of the Boyne Valley – molten Bán goats’ cheese, a touch of honey, and a judicious dab of Drummond House black garlic. You could set up a food truck and sell only these.
Turbot, barbecued Basque style on the parilla and drizzled with Txakoli wine, is brought to the table whole – head, eyes, tail and liver. The barbecued char adds an earthiness, but the fermented gooseberry beurre sauce has pooled underneath the fish, serving it on the side would be more successful.
The Tamworth pork from Slane Castle’s own farm is a triumph. Succulent with brittle crackling, it has been confited, pressed, and finished on the grill, served with a fermented pepper sauce which has a good kick of acidity. And there are sides of grilled hispi cabbage with apple ice wine.
Dessert is simple, but oh so amazing. Goats’ milk ice cream and a sorbet of crushed strawberries are served with sweet, incredibly beautiful strawberries, and notes of tarragon ping through in a revelatory way. Adding to the delight is a brioche feuilletée.
The main theme here may be cooking over fire, but there is also a load of technique. Misos, kojis, lacto-ferments, all the Nordic tropes are called upon to kick in with umami flavour, but they are used in a very considered way. It is confident, resolved cooking from a particularly talented team, which, as well as Davidson, includes Kevin Burke and Hugh Higgins. It is resolutely one Michelin star level with some dishes nudging higher. It is also hugely generous. An absolute feast in an enchanted Boyne Valley setting. Which makes this stupendously good value. It is most definitely worth a special journey.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and 12.5 per cent service charge was €252.
The verdict: 9.5/10 Top tier cooking in a magical corner of the Boyne Valley
Facilities: Clean Portaloos
Music: Amazing sound system and dream playlist at just the right volume
Food provenance: Exquisite – local and top producers including Slane Castle pork
Vegetarian options: Vegetarian menu on request, no vegan menu
Wheelchair access: Fully accessible, with accessible toilet