Review: Back to the future at this country house hotel

A mix of solid cooking and mid-range prices makes this feel like a place with its eye on the future

Sat, Nov 18, 2017, 06:00

   

Tinakilly Country House

  • Tinakilly, Rathnew, Co Wicklow
  • (0404) 69274
  • French

It’s a fair bet the only avocado to be found here will be the colour on the walls. Tinakilly House is a country house hotel where brown furniture can be seen in its natural habitat. Long after we’ve sent our sideboards to landfill and have nothing but clean Scandi lines on polished concrete floors, the dining rooms in places like Tinakilly House will be immersive experiences of what a good room must have felt like. 

There’s a deep carpet underfoot. So last century but also so damn brilliant at absorbing sound so each table doesn’t have to amp up their screech volume to compete with the one next door. Ditto the table linen, a restaurant staple shredded by the hurricane trend of “honest” and “authentic” bare tables. But (whisper it trendophiles) sometimes linen can set the tone for an occasion dinner as opposed to a casual bite.

Tinakilly House is between Rathnew and Wicklow town. When you turn off the main road you veer off the 21st century down a straight avenue with venerable old trees, still standing despite the storms. We’ve arrived in the last spits and squalls of a storm but it doesn’t seem to have dented the day for a wedding in the marquee alongside the house. Strings of lights make everything look cheerful. There’s a blazing log fire in the lobby and the hum of activity in the house, with a private party going on in another room and a half-full dining room. If there was a night to test a kitchen at its busiest then this is it. 

Tinakilly is the cradle of our globalised world. It was built by mariner Robert Halpin after he helped lay the first lasting transatlantic telegraph cable. The iron ship he used to complete the feat was designed by every schoolgirl’s favourite engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Halpin’s cable was the Victorian information superhighway, paving the way for today’s hyper-connected existence, humanity’s pinnacle project and the ability to find the perfect filter for your avocado toast. 

The hotel’s restaurant is called Brunel after the mutton-chopped engineer. The dining room we’re in is painted avocado green (okay maybe it’s sage) with huge sash windows and lots of sturdy proud brown furniture. Oils and prints are dotted around the place along with heavy gilted mirrors that could flatten a family car if they toppled. 

Described as game terrine with black pudding, we’re expecting flavour to put hairs on your chest

With all this heft going on, the menu is appealingly light. Although my Kilmore Quay scallops are a touch too light. They’re so small we need a new word, scallpeens maybe. There are three specimens getting agoraphobic because there’s so much space around them on their long plate. But their titchiness is made up for with crunchy pancetta and a puddle of butternut squash purée. My Dad’s terrine is also a bit underwhelming. Described as game terrine with black pudding, we’re expecting flavour to put hairs on your chest. It’s all pleasant but a bit meek. There’s a good celeriac remoulade to round it out. 

Mains are where the kitchen shines. There’s a doorstopper of a fillet of halibut. It’s got luscious bits of lobster claw on top and is served with slippery delicious gnocchi in a tomato fondue. There’s a butternut squash cannelloni in which chunks of this glorious vegetable have been saved from getting too blandly sweet with an edge of sage and maybe a bit of nutmeg there too all wrapped in excellent house pasta. 

Desserts are a chocolate plate where chocolate gets the works done to it: moussed, tempered, jellied, turned into ice cream and brownied. I have an apple and calvados raisin fool which is a deconstructed crumble, soft cubes of apple and raisin like a boarding school dessert. This one is jazzed up with “vanilla cheesecake cream” (dunno but I like it) and “Tinakilly granola”, which must mean Tinakilly avocado toast can’t be far behind. 

Tinakilly sources [its chicken] from an organic farm in Wexford

The old-school sourcing is what I really love about this place. While those honest and authentic bare-table joints often serve up battery farmed chicken and intensively reared pork, Tinakilly sources theirs from an organic farm in Wexford. Salad and herbs come from their own garden. The mix of solid cooking, mid-range prices and good-room luxury make Tinakilly feel like a place with its eye on the future. 

Dinner for two with sparkling water and a glass of wine came to €84.

Tinakilly Country House, Rathnew, Co Wicklow .
Verdict: 7½/10 Good cooking in a good room.
Facilities: Nice.
Music: Power ballads all the way.
Food provenance: Good chicken and pork from Regan family farm in Wexford.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Vegetarian options: Not extensive but well executed.

Coffee confidential

Shoe Lane is so small on the ground floor you probably need to bring a shoe horn to get in when they’re busy. But head up the narrow twisty stairs at the back and you find an upstairs room in this Tara Street coffee shop that feels like a secret hideaway.

There are stools for gazing out the window and a huge shared pine table here, a wall of mismatched mirrors and some artfully bent copper piping on another wall that looks like an ECG after a particularly strong shot of coffee. Walls are painted charcoal so the whole place looks like a photographer’s backdrop. The very fine coffee is by Brian Birdy’s Full Circle Roasters.  Just don’t tell anyone about it, okay? Shoe Lane, 7 Tara Street, Dublin 2.

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