Restaurant review: The Mustard Seed
Main Street, Ballingarry, Co Limerick. Tel: 00 353 69 68508
Readers of this column often make road trips to the four corners of Ireland. I know this because they often ask for restaurant recommendations in counties such as Offaly, Tipperary and Cork.
For Tipperary I recommend Supermac's fresh, uncrumbed chicken fillet sandwich in wholemeal bun with the chipotle sauce at the Barack Obama Plaza conference centre and petrol station at junction 23 on the M7. Offaly remains an open book and I don't know anywhere there, but for Cork which has three Michelin stars you must not go past Ichigo Ichie in Cork city, Mews in Baltimore and Chestnut in Ballydehob.
Earlier this week I had to be in Killarney. It's a schlep from Belfast and agreement was reached with the brother navigating that we would leave the day before and stop somewhere south of Limerick for the night. Ballymena broadcaster Sharon Devlin Noonan, now living in Co Limerick, suggested the Mustard Seed, a restaurant in the 19th century Victorian building "Echo Lodge" (built by the local Catholic priest to annoy his Protestant counterpart who had a grand house across the valley from it).
Today, the Mustard Seed is a posh, dog-friendly, country retreat, the kind loved by frayed aristocrats and moist-eyed Americans. It commands a dramatic tree-lined hilltop busy with noisy, squabbling crows at dusk. It overlooks the elegant village of Ballingarry and has the most outstanding herb and vegetable garden I've seen.
Under the guidance of the award-winning manager John Edward Joyce, this is a place of warmth, real hospitality, humour and comfort.
Crackling wood fires, mantel pieces weighed down with elephant statues and knicknacks, old faded portraits and book cases, soft fat sofas and invitations to gin cocktails would crack a smile on even the most miserable inspector's face.
We arrived early evening, raced up to the rooms, slapped our faces a bit to wake up and headed into Ballingarry. Fortified after a couple of pints in Barrett's lounge bar, we clambered back up to the Mustard Seed ready for our dinner.
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A menu featuring game, fish, fowl and meat offers four courses for €65 (£56). There is quail with a puree of polenta and tarragon with barley and confit of leg ragu; a risotto with blueberried beetroots, fennel, blue cheese and pumpkin seeds; salmon gravadlax yuzu, pickled squash, onion, foamed yoghurt and coriander oil; and a smoked veal salad starring tomato jam, caper vinaigrette, Guinness fingers, lemon and some very sparkly tomato chunks.
The latter two are brought forth and, accompanied by a chilled Sancerre, we leap in with all faculties switched up to 10.
The gravadlax is melt in the mouth tender, full of flavour and soft luxury, the little acid shiver of pickled squash underlining it all the more. The veal salad is unusual and the smoking of the meat beefs it up to match the strong flavours and textures of the caper vinaigrette, crunchy brittle Guinness finger biscuits and the lemon.
A brace of halibut fillets is next, joined on the plate by steamed spinach and shitake mushrooms, cauliflower and yoghurt puree and some very plump shelled mussels. The halibut might have stayed a few seconds less in the pan but the brother makes no complaints advising me to stop taking myself so seriously when I talk of overdone fish.
A skilfully and joyfully composed chocolate Tanzanie, a compilation of dark mousse, set yoghyurt and mango sorbet, is perfectly balanced indulgence of the best kind: decadent, sinful and in sharp contrast to the holy origins of our dining room. There is real culinary skill here as acknowledged by the consistency of awards over the years.
Chef Angel Pirev is daring and bold and it's no wonder that a place like the Mustard Seed well off the beaten track should succeed with the kind of exciting dishes he's putting out. People will travel to enjoy quality and those in the know will be aware that quality in Limerick doesn't start and end at Adare Manor.
This is your destination restaurant and the rooms are as charming, quirky, comfortable and welcoming as the hosts are entertaining, funny, gently mickey-taking and wittily flattering, but always, ultimately hospitable.
4-course dinner x 2 €130