The Oak Room at Adare Manor aims to lead the way in contemporary Irish fine dining. Under the direction of Head Chef Michael Tweedie (formerly of two-Michelin-starred Gidleigh Park and the AA Rosettes winning hotel, Ballyfin), the kitchen has created a menu based on a road trip five of the team (and Mike’s pugapoo, Frank) took around Ireland. We headed down to The Oak Room to discover the Irish landscape through the dishes on offer.
We are led through the atmospherically lit original oak-panelled dining room that gives the restaurant its name, to the newly added limestone colonnade that opens up onto the pristine gardens and is looked over by a sprawling 373-year-old cedar, the oldest tree in the English Isles. The extension is entirely in-keeping with the rest of the house, with pink-hued limestone walls and floors dimly lit by candlelight lending themselves to the romance of the experience.
We are presented with the menu, that is split into six courses with three choices per course. Michael explains,
“I didn’t want to do a tasting menu and I didn’t want to do an à la carte, so we found a happy medium. We’re not in the UK, we’re in the Irish countryside and people here tend to want beef and mash potato as opposed to a tasting menu, so we had to bear this in mind. We’re very flexible in the way that the menu works; if you want to have the three dishes from the first course and three from the third, you can. If you want to have all four meat courses, you can do that too. We’re not going to say ‘No’ at any stage.”
Even with this level of individualisation, Michael finds that they are still criticised for not having enough choice but he seems unfazed, knowing that this will change over time.
We peruse the seasonal menu, laden with local produce and items sourced from artisan Irish growers and farmers. The dishes on offer change every six weeks and provide a snapshot of the best that the land has to offer. We make our choices and hand the menu back to our server Colum, before the knowledgeable Farrah helps us pick out a robust and juicy Rioja.
Three amuse-bouche of Oyster Tartare Emulsion with Compressed Cucumber and Caviar; Smoked Salmon Mousse with Salmon Roe presented as tiny ice cream cones; and Mossfield and Culotte Cheese, Cheddar Biscuit macaroons, are placed before us and seen off in quick succession. The oyster is creamy and delicious with the freshness of the cucumber cleansing our palate, however our favourite is the unusual and flavourful salmon mousse with its adorable presentation and full texture.
Our first courses – Duck Foie Gras and Galway Goats’ Cheese – arrive, beautifully presented. The round of foie gras, topped with a covering of duck jelly, is cold and not overly flavourful, served with a thick slice of warm brioche and a segments of plum and mushroom.
Our preference lies with the smooth and creamy quenelle of goats’ cheese, draped in a sheet of jasmine tea jelly and tousled with crunchy roasted nuts and jammy raisins that all come together to create a complex and exciting first course.
Scallop, Apple, Ginger, Lemongrass and Tipperary Quail, Confit Leg, Cabbage, Girolles follow. The plump scallop sitting atop diced cooked apple and is surrounded by a sea of lemongrass foam. Salty, sweet and unusual, this is a simple success. The quail is similarly on-point, the richness of the meat marrying well with the mushroom purée and thick yolk of the quail egg. If the dish were any larger, the flavours would be overpowering but, as it stands, it works perfectly.
Our dishes are cleared and we are invited to the kitchen for our next course, Turbot, Celeriac, Trumpets, Truffle, Gewurztraminer, plated up in front of us by Michael himself. The kitchen is well-appointed, and all staff have their heads down in quiet concentration. As we tuck into our surprise dish, Michael tells us that, for him, “Summer truffles are boring – they’re bland. We tend to marinade the truffles in Madeira for a couple of months”. This is shaved over a big chunk of salt-crusted celeriac that has been cooked at 85 degrees and left to cool, before being topped with the flaky turbot. The result is an earthy and powerful dish.
Once we’ve finished, Michael shows us around the kitchen, pointing out jars of “experiments”, such as fermented beetroot that they make Carpaccio from, pickled blackberries from last year and truffle honey made from the honey produced on the estate.
He points out each station in his kitchen, explaining how they run a very quick service for the 40-cover serve and that everything in prepped in-house. We also admire the serving-ware, made by local artisans, and hear all about the 12 chefs that make up the team. “We’ve got a good, strong team”, states Michael with confidence and candor. “I couldn’t do my job without them. They get a hard time, don’t get me wrong, but they’re great!”
We leave the kitchen, already feeling mightily full, and take our seats in the darkening colonnade. Our next courses follow us in. Monkfish cooked on the bone, Cauliflower, Langoustine, Thai Spices is absolutely stunning, with lime purée cutting through the thick meatiness of the seafood. Ravioli of Artichoke with oozing hens’ egg yolk and toasted nuts is rich and flavourful. Smoked Gubbeen cheese and white truffle add earthy body, however a touch of salt is needed to bring the flavours truly to life.
Our final main course – Dexter Beef, Watercress, Suet Pudding, Peppercorn with Lyonnaise Potatoes – is the one that we have been waiting for and we beg our stomachs to make room for the perfectly tender meat. Slow-cooked to perfection, probably in a sous vide, the beef is some of the best we’ve ever had. The brilliant green, watercress purée’s vegetal note tempers the heavy red wine and peppercorn jus and adds a flash of colour to the plating. The suet pudding hides oxtail, bacon, rib-eye and girolles within its crust and is delicious but heavy.
We loosen the belts on our trousers as a surprise pre-dessert approaches in the form of Damson Granita and Buttermilk Mousse. Bright, refreshingly tart, we welcome the dynamic of the crisp ice and creamy mousse.
Burnt Estate Honey, Figs, Vanilla is a revelation of the season. Ripe figs are paired with chunks of honeycomb and splodges of estate honey. A tiny crème caramel with a quenelle of vanilla cream reaches pure perfection. The Caramelised White Chocolate, Autumn Raspberry, Pistachio is also gorgeous, boasting white chocolate “Aero” and a jumble of juicy fruit and sprinkled nuts.
Dinner has been going on for many hours and, whilst we feel somewhat incapable of eating another bite, we find ourselves (possibly foolishly) agreeing to sample the Irish Cheese Plate course featuring Smoked Gubbeen from Cork, Young Buck blue cheese, Little Mill brie, with an assortment of crackers, truffle honey, sweet Muscat grapes and caramelised pine nuts. Each bespeaks the excellence of the country’s farmhouse cheese industry and we find it impossible to choose a favourite.
Before we are allowed to leave, our gracious hosts present us with a final set of Petit Fours of apricot and chamomile jellies and dark chocolates with caramel and mint. All our exquisite and we sneak what we can’t eat into our pockets, not wanting to leave them behind.
Farrah smiles as we heave ourselves out of our chairs, thanking us for dining with them and telling us that Ariel, the head mixologist of The Tack Room is waiting for us downstairs (Read our full review of The Tack Room here). We exit The Oak Room slowly, glancing around at the other diners in the wood-panelled main room, all happily working their way through their courses. The light from the glass chandeliers throws shadows over the original oil paintings and restored cornerstones, showing off the impressive features of the room and creating a sense of banqueting and occasion.
Whilst the sheer amount of exquisite food and faultless hospitality of the staff have nearly defeated us, we look back on our little table, not quite wanting to leave. Michael and his team have managed to put together a menu that celebrates all that Ireland has to offer in terms of quality produce, and the waiting staff have shown us what Irish hospitality is all about.
Dinner at The Oak Room starts at €85 (£76) for four courses. The Chef’s Selected Six Course Seasonal Menu is priced at €105 (£95), with the addition of pairing wines ranging from €80-140 (£72-127).