Set in the corner of an attractively paved area beside the old arches of the disused Kilkenny/Portlaoise railway line (effectively back lit at night), a smart pea green canopy over matching green woodwork and half frosted full-length glass windows will lead you to this outstanding restaurant - which is run by Garrett Byrne, former head chef at Dublin’s celebrated Chapter One, who returned home to Kilkenny in 2008 to open his own restaurant with his partner and restaurant manager, Brid Hannon.
Although it is on the ground floor of a new building, Garrett and Brid have chosen a pastoral style - in tune with a passionately held food philosophy that will ensure the involvement of local food producers in the cooking - for their well-named, French-inspired restaurant.
The dark oak floored room is roughly oval (the shape defined by a ceiling rose above the curvaceous main seating area), with an open kitchen and a small bar along one light oak-panelled wall and, on another, a set of colourful contemporary paintings brilliantly depicting rural life, by Kilkenny artist Catherine Barron.
A third wall in deep aubergine features a trio of oval mirrors, and the curves are repeated stylishly through the centre of the restaurant, where three semi-circular banquettes enclosing tables for four to six create a serpentine loop that dominates the room.
Seriously set up for the relaxed enjoyment of good food, generous tables sport crisp white linen, comfortable leather chairs or banquette seating, and smart cutlery and glasses, but no flowers.
The welcome is warm and professional, the complimentary home-baked breads are outstanding, and Garrett’s predictably interesting à la carte menu offers a wide range of tempting dishes that balance the luxurious with the rustic.
Starters will include the signature deep-fried haddock: perfectly cooked, it comes with a very crisp batter, organic poached egg and scallion hollandaise – a simple example of perfection that sums up the philosophy of a restaurant where show-off food is not on the menu. Other more luxurious starters are offered, however, perhaps including a silky foie gras parfait with salad of peppered venison, apple & watercress and toasted brioche.
Mains are focused firmly on rusticity, with slow cooking a feature, typically in a dish like slow-cooked challans duck breast and sausage with savoy cabbage, organic beetroot purée and cranberry sauce.
Updated Irish traditions are seen in dishes such as Doherty’s (of Fermanagh) free range loin of pork, with black pudding, crushed celeriac and mustard sauce and - although the balance offered reflects the rural traditions of the area, where Kilkenny beef and lamb are big favourites - there will be some sea fish too (john dory, perhaps, or fillet of brill). Everything is beautifully cooked and full of flavour and - despite the rustic theme – presentation is sophisticated.
Desserts that provide the grand finale such cooking deserves will include a luscious speciality of Sauternes custard and Agen prunes and, perhaps a decadent chocolate millefeuille with raspberries.
A carefully-chosen wine list includes a good choice by the glass and, under Brid Hannon’s direction, the delicious food is served efficiently by well-trained and friendly staff.
This Kilkenny restaurants style may be informal, but it’s an extremely professional operation and there are many little details to give a sense of occasion – all of which should ensure good value at this very special restaurant.