The financial downturn had a huge impact on the hospitality industry in Ireland. Whilst restaurants have always worked to tight margins, they were faced with even harsher economic realities during the recession and had to quickly adapt to avoid going under. As we claw our way out of the recession, there seems to a renewed optimism in the hospitality industry with quite a few restaurant openings over the past year. More importantly people are keener than ever before to dine out. St. George’s Terrace Restaurant in the beautiful town of Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim opened in late 2015.
The restaurant is housed in an elegant red-brick Victorian building on the street from which it takes its name and has already gained a reputation for serving top-class food. The building was once home to a bank but it has been beautifully renovated and inside, comprises a number of high-ceilinged dining rooms, a comfortable bar area, kitchen and a cookery school.
The restaurant is co-owned by Manager Siobhan Smyth and Head Chef Dave Fitzgibbon both of whom have many years of experience working in restaurants and the hospitality sector. After studying Culinary Arts in Cathal Bruagh Street, Dave, a native of Carrick-on-Shannon, worked in a number of fine-dining and Michelin starred restaurants before returning home to open St. George’s Terrace with business partner Siobhan.
We were greeted warmly by Siobhan and shown into the bar area where we examined the menu and had a Gin & Tonic each made using Gunpowder Gin (from local Shed Distillery in Drumshambo, County Leitrim). After some discussion we decided to go for the 9-course Tasting Menu (€75 per person).
We were then brought to our table in the downstairs dining room. Decorated in a fetching navy colour, the bar and downstairs dining room are spacious but still have an intimate feel. White linen table cloths adorn the tables and are in keeping with the sophisticated feel of the period dining room.
The meal kicked off with an exceptional selection of bread including a soda-style Wheaten Bread, Tomato Bread, Black Olive Bread, Bacon & Onion Bread and a Plain White. These were served in an enamel bowl and accompanied by a generous amount of butter. Great care and attention had gone into making the differently shaped breads and each possessed a good flavour and was light and fluffy with a slightly chewy crumb. I was impressed. The breads were followed by an amuse bouche of Goat’s Cheese Foam whimsically presented in an egg shell. Light as air, the savoury mousse dissolved pleasantly on the tongue releasing a subtle goat’s cheese flavour.
Next up was the stunning looking Home Tea Smoked Salmon on Apple Jelly with Avocado & Cucumber, Horseradish Snow & Wasabi Caviar – things were getting serious here. It arrived to the table in a smoke-filled glass bell cloche which was ceremoniously lifted by our waiter before serving. Here two roundels of melt-in-the-mouth salmon were served with a silky avocado mousse, cucumber jelly and slightly effervescent horseradish ‘snow’. Tiny pearls of slightly fiery wasabi ‘caviar’ completed the dish and added textural interest. To accompany the amuse bouche and salmon we supped on glasses of a Grüner Veltliner, Weingut Malat, Kremstal (2014/15) (€36 per bottle) which, with its nose of citrus fruits giving way to crisp green apple on the palate, was wonderfully refreshing.
The Grilled Asparagus with Pear & Blue Cheese Salad – a simple sounding dish – proved to be a well-considered plate of food containing nuggets of Crozier Blue were served alongside a sorbet also made from the cheese, slices of compressed pear and peppery nasturtium leaves. This was lovely light dish where the cheese was the star of the show.
Pan-Seared Foie Gras with Rhubarb Earl Grey Tea Jelly & Gingerbread Crumb had a festive feel to it and again was a plate with a lot of well thought-out elements on it. The foie gras had been expertly cooked and was buttery rich and wonderful to eat whilst the jelly proved some much needed acidity. Braised Belly of Castlemine Farm Pork & Cheeks, Crumbed Homemade sausage, Celeriac, Turnip Purée, Fresh Gooseberry was an equally good dish and like the foie gras, rich on the palate. I particularly liked the soft, yielding cheek meat but the star of the plate was the homemade sausage which was nicely spiced and comforting to eat. With these dishes we had a Mâcon Uchizy, Cave Talmard, Burgundy 2014 (€35 per bottle) –a lovely un-oaked medium bodied wine with gentle citrus notes that went well with the food.
For me, the Pan-Fried Fillet of Brill, Asparagus, Samphire, Beans & Fennel Pollen was the dish of the night. The fish had been simply cooked and was well-seasoned which brought out its inherent maritime sweetness. A deeply flavoured velouté added a luxurious note without taking away from the flavour of the fish.
We were worried that the Breast of Thornhill Duckling, Fresh Apricot, Roast Parsnip, Toasted Almonds, Blood Orange Gel would be very heavy after the courses that had preceded it but the fresh acidity of the fresh apricots and tangy get mitigated its richness and we ate the lot. A Losada el Péjaro Rojo,Bierzo Do 2014 (€34 per bottle) with its lovely fresh flavours complimented the duck perfectly.
A duo of desserts finished our tasting meal. First up was a Mini 99 Cone, filled with a wonderful vanilla ice-cream followed by Iced Blackcurrant Parfait, Redcurrant Sorbet, Meringues & Honey which I attacked with child-like glee. Presented almost like a dessert version of a fruity pick-and-mix selection there was nothing on the plate that I could criticise as all the elements had been well executed. I’m a sucker for viscous dessert wines and took little persuading to indulge in a glass of Moscato Passito Palazzina, Il Cascinone, Piemonte 2012 (€5.50 per glass, €27 per bottle). I loved this beautifully balanced wine with its hint of overripe apricots.
Unable to consume anything else, Siobhan sent us on our way with a little bag of the Petits Fours we had been unable to eat. The next day I tucked into the excellent vanilla fudge, truffles and blackcurrant pâte de fruits with my mid-morning cup of tea and relived some of the tastes from the night before.
The food in St. George’s looks beautiful and has the ‘wow’ factor. Dave Fitzgibbon is a talented chef who displays a true respect for and understanding of the ingredients that he uses. Service is exemplary and makes you feel at ease. In many ways you don’t feel like a customer in Siobhan and Dave’s restaurant, but rather a much-valued guest. St. George’s may have opened last year but if the food being served there is an indication of the state of the restaurant industry in Ireland, I think that we should all feel positive about the future.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.