The setting within which Brabazon Restaurant reclines is beautiful, and we’ll warrant there are few places in Ireland to beat it. Over 15 years ago, Tankardstown House, a period property, was in need of careful restoration and repair, and it is to the credit of owners Trish and Brian Conroy that very little expense has been spared in refitting this property so well that it once again stands tall and welcoming on the 80-acre estate.
The main house offers accommodation in the elegant shape of an impressive Master Suite and five tastefully appointed bedrooms. Included in the grounds are several Courtyard Cottages, which seem ideal for either private or family get-togethers, and which are also styled above and beyond what you would usually expect. We aren’t staying the night, however, so we stroll past the suites and the cottages, and enter Brabazon Restaurant.
First impressions are remarkably positive: bare brick and stone is a regular stylistic focal point in contemporary restaurants, where the deliberately distressed look is conceived by designers eager to highlight how cutting-edge the establishment is (and approved by owners, who pay good money for such a visual display of abject poverty). The difference with Brabazon is that the swish, suave décor balances out the disparity of design. There are also large, ornate mirrors placed here and there, which add light and depth to a not too-large space. A lovely and simply effective design touch throughout the room is the amount of sporadic mini alcoves in the bare walls wherein tealights are placed. The room quietly hums with good conversation from twosomes, foursomes and our very own family threesome. It’s all very nice. Very yellow mellow. But not for long.
We sit down. After about ten minutes we order from the menu, as well as from the wine list. Bottled water (house variety) and wine (Bardalino) arrive. Then an amuse bouche. Then bread and smoked butter, no less. And then, after a full 50 minutes of waiting we pick up our knives and forks and enjoy our scallops, which are small in portion but very tasty. And then we wait a further 45 minutes for our main course. To be honest, if it isn’t for the fact that we are out for a family meal, and have plenty of chit-chat to chinwag over and loads of news to catch up on, I’d have been bored out of my skull waiting for the food to land at our table.
There is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a thin line between relaxing between courses and drumming your fingers against the tablecloth with increasing irritation. Far be it from me to suggest that such lengthy pauses between courses are strategically designed to coax/assist the customer into buying more wine, but because we wait so long for our main courses to arrive that’s exactly what we end up doing. Is this blatantly manipulative on the part of the restaurant? Possibly. Is it fair? Hardly. Is it standard practice? Not always, in my experience. Perhaps I should just take a deep breath, throw a few chill pills into my mouth and wash them down with a glass of wine from our second bottle of Bardalino? Answers on a postcard, please.
Moving swiftly on, I can assuredly inform you that our mains (duck, monkfish, beef fillet) are really very fine, with a declaration from the serial carnivore that the fillet is the best he has ever tasted. Dessert is a shared 70% Organic Coco Barry Chocolate, which is served with edible bark, yoghurt, and olive oil. It is as delightful as it is intriguing.
I ask for the damage, as we have clearly spent too much time and money (that second bottle of wine!), and upon checking the bill I discover that I have been charged for three bottles of wine. Dear God, is there no end to the amount of gargle Brabazon would like us to purchase? It’s a mistake, of course (yet an unforgiveable one – we are a table of three, not six). It’s quickly rectified, but it rankles nonetheless, especially when apologies are perfunctory, to say the least. You would have thought they’d knock off the price of the starter (€13) or dessert (€11.50) for such a serious misstep, but they choose not to.
We depart without leaving a tip, which is something I hardly ever do in a restaurant of this calibre. Quite frankly - handsome room, beautiful surroundings and excellent food notwithstanding - I’m not sure I’ll be in too much of a hurry to return.
Brabazon Restaurant, Tankardstown House, Rathkenny, Slane, Co Meath, 041-9824621, website here
THE TAB: Dinner for three, with wine, came to €170.50, no tip.
HOW TO: Open Wednesday, Thursday & Sunday evenings 6pm-8.30pm; Friday & Saturday 6pm-9pm; Sunday Lunch, 12.30pm-3.30pm. Closed Monday/Tuesday.
(This review first appeared in The Irish Examiner, October 25, 2014.)