At the Cliff House hotel in Co. Waterford, Ireland, locals ferry the fruits of the Irish earth and sea to chef Martijn Kajuiter, who creates skilful, imaginative dishes, as Jennifer Sharp discovers
You don't expect delicate, adventurous cooking in a seaside hotel. The Cliff House hotel in Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Ireland, is five-star, but with lots of families and outdoor activities, the menu might be simple food for healthy appetites.
Chef Martijn Kajuiter has other ideas. He admires the Irish, but not their taste for huge helpings of meat and potatoes. He adds seafood and vegetables to the classics and deconstructs dishes to give a playful elegance to substantial portions. He holds a Michelin star (gained in 2010) as well as four AA rosettes and is executive chef in charge of F&B.
The 6ft 8in tall Dutchman learned his skills in Holland and London with Pierre Koffmann, John Burton-Race and Marco Pierre White.
The House Restaurant is a comfortable room of 70 covers with breathtaking views over the sea; it's open for dinner only from Tuesday (Wednesday in winter) to Saturday. The Cliff House hotel opened in May 2008, but the 40-year-old chef joined several months earlier to find suppliers, create menus and organise the kitchen around a sturdy Charvet range.
Local suppliers include day boats in nearby Helvick Bay for superb fish and oysters. Kajuiter gets the freshest, sweetest lobsters caught a few hundred feet away from the restaurant by a local who has tended his pots for 40 years.
There's grass-fed beef and lamb from McGrath's in Lismore, where the butcher is also a farmer; ducks from the Hickey farm in West Cork; and pigeon from Ballynatray on the Blackwater river.
Basic veg is grown at the St Raphael's daycare centre, where Cliff House provides seeds, polytunnels and garden therapy for disadvantaged people. The hotel's own glasshouses grow micro herbs, edible flowers, tiny vegetables and Cottier's kale, grown from cuttings begged from Darina Allen at Ballymaloe.
Kajuiter says his local forager supplies "a tsunami of stuff", including rock samphire, yarrow and sea beet. Strawberries are from local man "Strawberry Willie", while Mrs Nugent brings gooseberries from her garden.
Kajuiter is a whirlwind of energy and ideas. "My team call me ‘the black hole'," he says, "because I want to know everything. It's in my DNA not to choose the easy option." Kajuiter's recent cookbook is called Let's Go Disco, after his rallying cry in the kitchen.
The à la carte menu has five starters, five mains and four puddings or cheese, plus an eight-course tasting menu with options of matching wines or wine and Champagne. The three-course à la carte menu is €70 (£56), or €97.50 (£78) with wine pairing. The eight-course tasting menu is €95 (£76), plus €50 (£40) for five matching wines and €65 (£52)for wine and Champagne.
The food is both delicious and dramatic. Amuses include clay-baked potato with seaweed mayonnaise, beetroot macaron with goat's cheese cream, white asparagus panna cotta with green watercress jelly and crunchy potato fragments, and a jellied disc of sweetcorn purée topped with popcorn. There are three breads: sea vegetable brioche, spelt with stout, honey and thyme, and mini cornbread loaves, plus old-fashioned farmhouse butter. "The large commercial dairies have washed the soul out of butter," observes the chef.
Lobster is presented as lobster steak with mayonnaise, cannelloni with Bloody Mary gel, bisque, smoked, and as a bi-colour pasta using lobster and squid ink. Carrot sorbet with fennel and green tea is a refreshing pause after the lobster fireworks and is both sweet and savoury. Duck is served as cubes of caramelised breast with baby turnips, lemon yuzu jelly and a rich duck reduction along with duck terrine with pea and lettuce jelly and puffed summer wheat.
For dessert, the peach dish consists of poached, roast and semi-dried fruit with peach sorbet and pistachios, a lozenge of crème caramel, elderflower meringue and a dramatic pink meringue wand.
This is skilful, imaginative food and Kajuiter is aware that "some guests don't have food on their agenda", but with friendly service and a great wine list, this is clearly a destination for celebrations.
The House Restaurant at the Cliff House hotel
Ardmore, Co. Waterford, Irelandwww.thecliffhousehotel.com
From the menu
Irish quail breast, leg, egg, confit and smoked, foie gras, broccoli textures, polenta, red wine jus
Green asparagus, ajo blanco, gold, herbs, tapioca, Milleens cheese, Lismore girolles, scrambled egg
Atlantic halibut with ratatouille 2014, black olive, saffron
Helvick turbot, fillet, pan-fried, pickled sea vegetables, lemon, basil, roast tomato
McGrath Black Angus beef, vegetables, potato fondant, Kilbeggan whiskey, beef tea, garden herbs
Desserts Strawberries with cream, elderflower, basil
Vintage organic chocolate with coffee, olive oil, sea salt