Since 1997, discerning diners from all over Ireland (and beyond) have needed only the flimsiest excuse to make a beeline for Paul and Maire Flynn's stylish contemporary restaurant in Dungarvan It was a great asset to the town from the outset and, since Paul's television work has made him a household name, both the restaurant and cookery have become very popular destinations for the wider public.
The restaurant was once a leather warehouse but the treatment is personal and contemporary, making an ideal setting for Paul's strong modern Irish cooking - and although it has recently been given a lovely fresh makeover, the tannery theme is still echoed throughout the light, clean-lined interior, creating a pleasingly historic atmosphere in a modern setting.
Arriving guests can see Paul and his team at work in the open kitchen on their way upstairs to the high-ceilinged first-floor dining area, which is bright and welcoming, with bold floral wallpaper and crisp white linen softening the ambience (and improving the acoustics); together with dramatic paintings, smart, simple table settings and fresh flowers, the scene is set for a memorably pleasurable experience.
Menus are wonderfully simple yet, paradoxically, the food tastes very exciting; while inspired to some extent by global trends and regional cooking, particularly of the Mediterranean countries, menus have a strongly Irish feeling and are based mainly on local ingredients, which Paul supports avidly and sources with care - notably local seafood of course, also meats including pork and bacon supplied by renowned local butcher JD Power.
As viewers of Paul’s television series will expect, simplicity is of the essence here, and there are no amuse bouches; what is certain to be an outstanding meal cuts straight to the chase with superb starters.
Try The Tannery charcuterie plate, perhaps – a combination of Fingal Ferguson’s West Cork meats and a jar of homemade chicken liver paté served with toasted brioche. One of many classics revisited, this simple yet memorable dish is worth travelling for – another is a crab crème brulée, with pickled cucumber and melba toast.
An unusual main course that illustrates the skill of this exceptional chef is described simply as Helvic seafood stew. Served in a saucepan with rouille, roasted bread and a ladle to help yourself, this homely presentation belies the deliciousness of the perfectly cooked fish, and its deeply flavoured saffron and rosemary broth. Another triumph of a dish.
Simple accompaniments are equally special – a gorgeous quail and mushroom pie may come with sherry braised cabbage (an inspired combination) and a bowl of perfect mash glistening with melted butter. Even hardened food critics are continually surprised by Paul Flynn's cooking which, as one fellow chef put it, "makes dishes which one thought one knew taste as if one was eating them for the first time".
Presentation is simple, and all the better for being plain - not too much height, and not too many useless drops about the plate.
An artisan cheese platter is always a highlight, and the dessert menu offers plenty of treats - but here the maverick genius may be at work, and you could well find novelty alongside the more predictable chocolate confections.
Paul also offers a Chef's Table, which would be a special treat for a group of 12-18 food lovers to enjoy together.
Giving good value has always been a notable feature of The Tannery: the à la carte is very fairly priced for food of this quality, but the lunch and Easy Evening set menus (changed daily) are outstandingly good value.
Attentive and efficient service, an interesting and kindly-priced wine list (which offers lots of cheaper choices for this style of restaurant, also a welcome page of half bottles) and, above all, Paul's exceptional cooking, make for memorable meals at this stunning restaurant.
A atmospheric evening hideaway, The Tannery Wine Bar is Paul and Maire's latest venture, offering 'small plates' and blackboard specials, along with a choice of 20 wines all available by the glass, pichet or bottle. Open Tue-Sat, 5.30-'late'.
*The Tannery was the Guide’s Restaurant of the Year in 2004 and Paul Flynn was our Chef of the Year in 2008.
Comfortable, stylish and very convenient accommodation is offered nearby, in Church Street; a continental breakfast is organised so that you can have it in your room.
*The Tannery Cookery School and the adjacent Glanbia organic garden, which supplies both the restaurant and the school, is also just around the corner. Market gardening courses are offered as well as cookery (full details on www.tannery.ie)