Aoife Cox heads to County Meath to sample Robbie Krawczyk's cooking at the Brabazon Restaurant, in Tankardstown House, and enjoys the big flavours.
As I write this, I find myself imagining the job ad for a place on one of Rob Krawczyk’s dinner plates: “Wanted: Quality ingredients for high end dishes. Flexibility and ability to work well with others a must. Strong flavour profile a plus. Bulking materials need not apply.”
As boss man of the kitchen at Brabazon Restaurant in Tankardstown House, Co. Meath, Rob makes his ingredients work hard - they come to the diners’ table in occasionally surprising guises, with flavours that often pop and invariably harmonise. Thus, when squid is on dinner duty, it may be slivered so as to take on the appearance of miniature tagliatelle, to be served with charred baby gem leaves, diced chorizo and a punchy roast garlic aioli. Scallops look like nicely seared scallops alright, but they rest on a carefully constructed edible seascape: ‘sand’ is, in fact, a combination of prawn oil, breadcrumbs and maltose, yielding a faintly sandy texture that dissolves in the mouth (as prawn crackers might); what look and feel like large fish eggs could, you speculate later, be faux roe, fashioned using carrageen and fishy flavours; there's dillisk and samphire, fronds of fennel and what look like a couple of tiny sage leaves; and there’s foam (which I almost always think of as an affectation, but it works here). The turbot you have later might come replete with mussels, crispy ox tongue, and something that you think you heard the well informed waiter describe as grapefruit popcorn, as well as several other elements that you might fail to identify, but will likely not fail to enjoy. Desserts, too, are prone to featuring layered textures and flavours, as with the treatment of Peruvian Cacao Barry chocolate, presented in both mousse-like and latticed forms, with crystallised rose petals, mint leaves, whipped yoghurt, and olive oil turned solid, once more by way of the maltose treatment.
What will, most likely, stick in your memory afterward, though, will be the in-your-face flavour of it all - any chef who chooses to amuse your bouche with a whipped preparation of pickled beetroot spiked with slivers of fried garlic is giving your tastebuds advance warning of a good workout. You’ll remember the eye-puckeringly sharp, between-courses palate cleanser of lemon sorbet served on a thin, intensely apple-y jelly base - facial contortions aside, it served its purpose, clearing a much needed path through the garlic of earlier dishes; then, too, there was the concentrated cassis character of the blackcurrant sorbet that accompanied a crème fraîche soufflé (which, on its own, would have been too much of a sweet thing); there was the voluptuous little venison stew, which, though it may have been an aside to the main venison feature, was vividly flavoured and richly wintry; and that side of creamed kale and cabbage, which was simply - and delightfully - dairy rich and garden green (an accompanying side dish of puréed potato, on the other hand, was perhaps the least worthy of remark, though still a competent foil to the many other, stronger flavours).
Though the food may, on occasion, have packed more punch in the garlic department than would be to everyone’s taste, be in no doubt but that this is technically accomplished cooking - from a chef whose CV includes stints at Corrigan’s of Mayfair, Chez Panisse in San Francisco and at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore - and it is served (and warmly so) in the classy, vaulted-ceiling-and-exposed-stonework surroundings of Brabazon restaurant, which itself nestles at the back of Tankardstown’s restored Georgian pile, in as manicured a country house setting as you’re likely to find. There were occasions, mid-meal, when the otherwise innocuous background music became foreground, notably when The Smiths front man Morrissey could be heard to expound on the morbid possibilities of being run over by a ten ton truck, sentiments which jarred with both the food and the surroundings. Perhaps that dinner plate job ad should also include a note to the effect that, for this particular post, Morrissey need not apply either.