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The Tannery, Dungarvan, Co Waterford

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I meant to post this ages ago. There have been plenty of mentions of The Tannery on various topics dealing with restaurants in Ireland, so here's a review I did a while back minus the prelims:

“What Nico excelled at is flavour,” says Paul Flynn. “He drummed it into us. Take your time making things, he said and be aware of your senses when cooking. That’s what I learned, and that’s where my strengths lie. As well as attention to detail and consistency.” After nine years at Chez Nico, he returned to Ireland, did a stint as head chef at La Stampa and then opened the Tannery in Dungarvan with his wife Máire. It took a while to find his own voice he says. He didn’t want to do the stuffy Michelin-style bit, and over the years he stripping everything back and focused on traditional food and less glitzy cuts of meat. A distinctive and refined style evolved that is rustic but crisp, with food that is clean and elegant on the plate. Without doubt, Paul Flynn has his own voice.

The Tannery is a handsome and interesting building which has been comfortably transformed into a great restaurant space. It is modern without being lodged in any iconic decade. You get the sense that it is always going to look good. We arrive just two minutes on the right side of lunch time. It is not a problem, we are assured by Valerie Maloney who works front of house during the day. She has a lovely touch.

Up the stairs, past the semi-open kitchen, the room is airy, low-key and relaxed. A large animal hide hangs on one wall and interesting themed photography is displayed around the room depicting the building’s former life as a, well, tannery,. The furniture has nice clean lines and white linen runners on the tables add a “good food without too much pomp” note. The room is about half full; there is evidence of some less tardy customers who have just left.

Our menus arrive swiftly, followed by glasses of cold water and a bucket of warm, crusty ciabatta bread. The starter of minestrone of crayfish (€7.50) is nothing short of stunning. It looks simple enough. A crouton of artisan-style bread is topped with crème fraiche, the soup is poured around it and the crayfish is sitting on top. But the textures work so well with the soup, with the crunch, the cream, the tiny dice of vegetables and the soft bite of the crayfish. More spectacular is the deep savoury flavour in the soup with the distinctive taste of prawns coming through. Paul Flynn tells me afterwards that this is in fact two soups. He makes the prawn broth first and then adds the minestrone which allows the flavours to layer and become more complex. The crayfish he explains are brined because they’re not always available fresh, and that keeps it a consistent product.

Our other starter of wild mushrooms à la crème with organic leaves (€8.50) is simple in concept. Creamy without being too rich, it is beautifully balanced and expertly seasoned. The baked monkfish with chickpeas, garam masala and cucumber raita (€22) - a dish which features on the à la carte dinner menu - sits comfortably in its Irish environment. It is a considered, gentle sort of dish. The fish, which is very much the texture of fish you get in India, pairs very nicely with the chickpeas in a mellow, creamy, garam masala sauce. The raita, with finely sliced rather than grated cucumber, balances out the dish. And keeping things solidly Irish, our other main course is a farmer’s-sized helping of seared bacon, sliced into generously thick slices on top of creamy mash with minted summer greens (€14.50). The detail on the plate is in the vegetables this time, which are a lovely mix of beans, peas and cabbage in a light cream. Probably not necessary and a bit sweet and sticky, is a side swipe of balsamic reduction. A moot point.

Desserts (€6.96) are in the same simple, considered vein: the summer berry trifle has just the right balance of fruit, sponge and cream; the chocolate mousse could have been a bit more chocolaty for my taste and I’d prefer it without the ginger, but this is just a personal thing.

The food here is simple, but there is a complexity and understated sophistication to it that is not immediately obvious. Our overwhelming feeling is one of relaxed contentment and delight at having such a wonderful meal. The service throughout has been fantastic. Everyone is personable yet extremely professional. In terms of the full experience, it has delivered impeccably.

But the lunch - with a menu that changes daily - is not the only bargain at the Tannery. A €28 early-dinner menu runs from Tuesday to Friday, Sunday lunch is €30, children are catered for graciously and charged €10 and the broader dinner menu compares very favourably with Dublin prices. The Tannery is well, well worth a visit.

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A tannery is not somewhere to immediately put you in mind of a nice plate of roast monkfish with chickpeas. Just as well the old photos don't come in Smello-vision.

I visited the Tannery as a child, when it really was a tannery and my father (also a master tanner) bought leather from them. That was before competition from South America decimated the UK and Irish leather business.

Hmmm ... a symbol of how our economies have been transformed from industrial to service-based?



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A  tannery is not somewhere to immediately put you in mind of a nice plate of roast monkfish with chickpeas. Just as well the old photos don't come in Smello-vision.

I visited the Tannery as a child, when it really was a tannery

Here’s a pic to rekindle fond memories, and here’s the website.


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