Is this the best cooking in Ireland?

Archive - all the best places to eat, shop and stay in Ireland. A local guide to local places.
  • Gregan's Castle

Apologies for the title question – the sort of thing that is the scourge of magazines and weekend journalism – but you don't even have to get very far into the series of dishes that forms Mickael Viljanen's tasting menu at Gregan's Castle in The Burren, County Clare, before you find yourself asking that very same question.
And when you reflect on the places that are operating at the same level of Mr Viljanen's achievement, the names that arise are L'Ecrivain, the now-departed Mint, Chapter One, MacNean House, and so on.
Before he made his way to Gregan's, Mr Viljanen worked with Paul Flynn in The Tannery for a year. He has taken Mr Flynn's love of big flavours, and applied it to a technique that has the painterly perfection of Dylan McGrath and the love of surprise of Kevin Thornton.
Lamb comes as a trio of braised neck, breaded shoulder shaped into a finger and roast canon. Lobster is poached in butter, and comes with braised pork and the most amazing baked potato jelly – you just have to try this little baby: it's out of the box. The beetroot dish is a masterpiece, the foie gras a calm indulgence that shows the most extreme technical mastery, whilst the themes explored in the dessert options such as chocolate, custard, strawberry and date and orange are dazzling.
Does he do salted caramel? you ask. He makes a salted caramel to die for, and every plate is a feast for the eyes.
Put this class of food into what is perhaps the leading country house in Ireland at the moment, thanks to Simon Haden's service and Freddy McMurray's design aesthetic, and you have a truly incredible experience. Mr Viljanen is only 27 years old, and a very personable, modest man. There is nothing he won't be able to achieve, but don't waste any time in getting to Corkscrew Hill in The Burren to sample something extraordinary.