All That Is And Was And Is To Come
Skipping the light fantastic – those southern sunsets – we zoom past the healthily rude sounding Ballinspittle and gourmet rattling Deelish to our destination. Frank Keohane writes in The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County (2020), “At the head of Ballydehob Bay, a small village of 19th century origin at a crossing on the Rathruane River.” In West Cork A Sort of History (1997) Tony Brehony dips in, “Ballydehob, a charming little village nestling among the hills of West Cork, lies to the east of brooding Mount Gabriel… The village itself has become the focus of the recent literary and artistic revival in West Cork and artists, writers and poets from all over the world intermingle freely with the native fishing and farming community.”
Hiding behind an unassuming Irish shopfront, the ground floor windows clad with Murphy’s Stout blinds, lies a world class restaurant. ‘Chestnut Tree’ spells the sign above the rendered ground floor and below the pebble dashed upper storeys. Welcome to 21st century rural Ireland. This is how we live – and dine – now. It’s our discovery, albeit one we’re happy to share with a Michelin inspector. We’re here for the pescatarian tasting menu. And yes you guessed it, this used to be a pub (again, welcome to Ireland). In a while we will be told, “We tried to keep the character of the old pub. The landlady of 20 years Agnes was well known for sweeping out rowdy guests with her broom!”
We dodge the entry level wines and head straight for hedonism in a bottle or three. Sparkling? That’ll be us. Larmandier-Bernier Latitude Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut from New Zealand. Red? Why not. Pierre-Jean Villa, Côte-Rôtie Carmina, Syrah, Rhône Valley, 2018. White? Oh please, we’re being spoiled. Domaine Sylvain Langoureau Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru, Le Garenne, 2019. “Restaurant Chestnut is all about seasonal food and punchy flavours,” believes Sharon Townshend of The Castle, Castletownshend. “It’s a distinction restaurant of 100 percent West Cork fine dining. Justin and I made the trip last Saturday and loved it!” And sure enough, it is punchily on season with buckets full of distinction.
We unseal the menu: “Inspired by nature, Rob’s menus are designed around the finest ingredients that are seasonably best, from the West Cork larder, and from the island of Ireland. Rob grew up in West Cork. His father’s Polish heritage and family traditions have influenced his cooking. West Cork’s spectacular rich larder is what has drawn Rob home, home to his roots, to open a restaurant in the heart of this beautiful area.” Owner Chef Rob Krawczyk comes out from the kitchen: “We pride ourselves on provenance.”
Providence on plates. Jeden. Wheaten bread with Mila’s Fancy Cheese from Newtownards. Dwa. Grilled asparagus on a stone. Trzy. Day cheese with frozen young buck on toast. Cztery. Union Hall mackerel, Kristal caviar with buttermilk and parsley. “Rob’s dad taught him how to pickle food and use capers and vinegar. Pięć. Fizzy clove and whiskey foam palate cleanser. Sześć. Union Hall monkfish with Irish truffle and fennel pollen with brown butter. Siedem. Aubergine cooked over embers with asparagus, wild garlic bulbs and beetroot jus. It looks for all the world like sparkling quartz and melting ruby on a shimmering emerald sea. And the meatiest aubergine imaginable. Osiem. Bay leaf sherbet and dill oil with Velvet Cloud Sheep’s Yoghurt, bay leaf and wood sorrel. Dziewięć. Mead sabayon of West Cork honey, bee pollen and meadowsweet. Dziesięć. Sweets in edible rice paper and proper drip coffee.