Summer is dead and gone, and if any part of me was lamenting the transition to autumn, it evaporated the second we arrived at Barberstown Castle for a recent Friday night indulgence. Although we had only travelled half an hour outside the city, pulling up to the majestic property felt like stepping in to another world.
With an almost ethereal mist hanging over the palatial estate, which dates back to the 13th century, night was falling, as was I, for the charms of this magical castle. An understandably popular wedding venue, the twinkling lights and splendour of this historic gem had our hearts a-flutter, all before we had even laid eyes on a plate.
Escorted through an eye catching glass walled bar and past the first of many roaring fireplaces, it became clear that I wasn’t the only one enthralled with the castle’s grandeur. Warm and inviting, with splashes of Burgundy and gold, The Barton Room restaurant would be our home for the night, as we crossed our fingers for a meal as beautiful as our surroundings.
As a member of Ireland’s prestigious Blue Book, a collection of charming destinations which place great emphasis on warmth of service and memorable dining experiences, expectations were high.
With an a la carte offering dotted wth temptations, my dining companion and I agreed that handing over control to head chef Bertrand Malabat was the way forward. A surprise five course tasting menu sounded like just the ticket, and the perfect way to prolong our time by the beautiful open log fire centre-piece of the opulent dining room.
Our five course feast kicked off with an amuse bouche of Gazpacho,Pesto and Mozzarella Foam. Far from faff, the foam offered burrata-like creamy indulgence and served to cool a fiery gazpacho and tempt the tastebuds to wake.
Cured Salmon with Pickled Vegetables was the first indication of chef’s ability to straddle cuisines, with a tender tranche wrapped in nori offering hints of Japanese flair, with sharp pickled cucumber and a tart blood orange gel to cut through the oily salmon.
The lily was well and truly gilded as our next course enticed us in – Foie Gras with Charred Apricot melted like butter in the mouth and barely even needed the accompanying sweet toasted brioche. Although foie gras is a divisive ingredient, there was no denying how delicious this decadent dish was.
Thankfully, our fish course served to lighten things up, and a perfectly pitched dish of crisp-skinned Red Mullet with Artichoke and Octopus was well balanced and delicate. I could have eaten a plateful of the melting and smokily charred octopus tendrils, cooked to almost impossible tenderness.
A welcome lull was followed by a dish fit for a Queen, a blushing pink Cannon of Lamb, the best part of the loin, lean but flavour-packed. Crowned with a Five Mile Town goats cheese tortelloni filled with herbs from Barberstown’s garden and finished with a silky aubergine purée, both of our plates went back clean with compliments to the chef.
The final flourish, pleasingly, was the last of summer in a glass and a fond farewell to the luscious Irish strawberry harvest of our balmiest year yet. Vanilla specked feather light mousse was scooped up greedily with a crisp shard of lavender meringue before unearthing sweet and juicy berries. Scavenging even deeper, a bed of vanilla panna cotta completed a glass worth raising a toast to.
Doing our best to avoid having to leave, post dinner espressos by the fire in the lounge were a must, especially as the Michael Bublé of Kildare sidled up to the piano to serenade the room. Dinner at Barberstown Castle is steeped in old school glamour, with a modern menu and traditional hospitality that will never be dated.
The Barton Room is a venue with culinary ambition, and with a dining room filled with as many locals as hotel guests it is showing signs of developing a reputation as a stand-alone quality restaurant worth traveling for, a feat many hotel restaurants fail to manage.
It is little wonder that Eric Clapton fell in love with Barberstown, laying claim to it for a number of years before selling in 1987. As we gathered ourselves to begrudgingly leave, I thought to myself that dinner had indeed been wonderful tonight and left only with the regret that I wasn’t settling in for the night.
The five course surprise tasting menu is priced at €75 per person and is served on Friday and Saturday nights in the Barton Room.
The Barton Room
T: +353 1 6288157
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY