Restau­rant re­view

Gre­gan’s Cas­tle, Corkscrew Hill, Bal­ly­vaughan, Co Clare, 065 7077005. www.gre­gans.ie

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - News -

There is an old say­ing that when God was mak­ing the world he had some un­usual bits left over, and un­sure what to do with them he de­cided to put them all in Co. Clare. I have a huge soft spot for the place, pos­si­bly de­riv­ing from the pretty Clare girl next door when I was grow­ing up (she was also named Clare), and be­cause it was here that I fell for the En­gi­neer in the early years of our re­la­tion­ship.

I don’t want to sound like a tour guide and you al­ready know about the mu­sic, the Cliffs and the Bur­ren, just make sure you add the cook­ing of David Hur­ley in Gre­gan’s Cas­tle to the list.

Gre­gan’s is not an ac­tual cas­tle but an 18th cen­tury manor house and bou­tique ho­tel.

Mick­ael Vil­ja­nen of Green­house cooked here for a time and made it into a des­ti­na­tion, but that seems like an age ago – Gre­gan’s has been about David Hur­ley’s food for a long time now.

A quick scene-set­ting: the din­ing room is com­fort­able and wel­com­ing in warm green tones with a fine view of the Bur­ren, ser­vice is wel­com­ing, punc­til­ious and ef­fort­less.

The menu here has five sec­tions with choices in three of those, but lots of ex­tras are added so this has the feel of a tast­ing menu but one that (cru­cially) gives din­ers some con­trol.

Hur­ley takes the lo­cal (where pos­si­ble) and finds ways for these in­gre­di­ents to shine by what­ever means nec­es­sary.

Discs of pick­led lo­cal car­rots are given a car­damom mousse to soften and broaden the al­ka­line kick, a pow­er­ful umami pop is cre­ated when Ir­ish ba­con gets matched with brie and truf­fle and served into a tiny cone (just for fun), and plain old scal­lop roe is mixed with squid ink and made into a sweet-savoury meringue and sits on iden­ti­cally coloured black stones.

That was just our amuse bouche and it woke up all our senses – from the eye-pop­ping beauty of pre­sen­ta­tion to the crunch of the cones and the meringue to the bursts of aroma, flavour and tex­tures – we were now ut­terly fo­cused on our din­ner, not on the view.

The wine list is broad and of de­cent length with very fair pric­ing and I like that it con­cen­trates its ef­forts on wines priced be­tween €30 and €50, you know, the kind of wines you are likely to buy.

A glass of bio­dy­namic Fleury Cham­pagne for the En­gi­neer (birth­day girl) was rich and el­e­gant and al­most a steal at €17 per glass. Fosso del Nib­bio 2012, an or­ganic 100% San­giovese from Mon­te­cucco in South­ern Tus­cany was cho­sen purely be­cause I had never heard of it – this is a list you can trust.

It was stun­ningly good – packed with limpid red cherry fruits yet taut, com­plex and savoury, the bot­tle age had al­lowed ev­ery one of its mil­lion flavours to meld into some­thing other – some­thing grand. And it cost just €34.

It turns out this too is lo­cal as it is im­ported by a mem­ber of the fam­ily that makes it and op­er­ates the nearby Rus­sell Gallery in New Quay – more rea­sons to re­turn. I’m run­ning out of space. Quick men­tions then of the del­i­cate Bur­ren Lamb Tartare off­set by white turnip and an­chovy may­on­naise; the in­nate meati­ness of glazed Hal­ibut given fo­cus by some ham ravi­oli, con­trast from cau­li­flower and rounded out with an al­mond brown but­ter.

In­tox­i­cat­ingly creamy cured foie gras was ac­cented by a disc of gin­ger­bread, ripe peach and al­mond sor­bet; Veal chop and Sweet­bread topped with a fried cab­bage leaf looked like the Poulnabrone Dol­men and was just as won­drous; White Choco­late and Rasp­berry were off-set with a rev­e­la­tory cel­ery and thyme sor­bet, Black­cur­rant souf­flé with a black­cur­rant sor­bet and a sheep’s milk yo­ghurt to pour into its fluffy depths. This is pre­cise and in­cred­i­bly thought­ful cook­ing, it is ex­pres­sion­ist but never ab­stract, the flavours are grounded and real. Star in­gre­di­ents are given a per­fect cast of other flavours to show them at their best – Hur­ley is like the ge­nius that hired Merry Clay­ton to sing on Gim­mie Shel­ter, but he does it on ev­ery sin­gle song - these are not tunes you will eas­ily re­move from your head.

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