SLOW FOOD IN WATERFORD.
AND NOT IN AN ENTIRELY GOOD WAY.
The Bay Tree Bistro
16 Merchant’s Quay
Phone: 051 858517
Irish Daily Mail
3 March 2017
There’s no doubt about it. Chef Keith Boyle can cook fish. Actually, that’s an understatement. He cooks fish like an angel, and his brown butter sauce is celestial.
I’m afraid there are several buts.
We arrived at this Waterford restaurant just as it opened. For much of the time, we were the only people there. Our starters arrived an hour after we did, our mains an hour and a half later. Admittedly the amuse bouche selection came first, a full half our after we sat down. Few things are more unsettling in a restaurant than courses served at breakneck speed – it suggests an overworked microwave for a start – but this kind of tardiness gives slow food a bad name.
As I say, there’s no doubt that the chef at the Bay Tree Bistro is seriously talented but, equally, it appears that he tries to do too much. I mean there’s the word “bistro” in the name of the restaurant. “Bistro” implies good, simple food, not Michelin pretensions.
Not only is the food here complex – too complex if you don’t have a big, highly-skilled team in the kitchen – dishes are served with gloved hands. That’s just comical.
We tried two menus. What would be called an early bird anywhere else is designated the pre-dinner menu which sounds... well, it sounds like a few nibbles with your aperitif. It’s €30 for three courses. And we had the three course table d’hôte menu at a perhaps ambitious €39.
The selection of amuses bouches comprised a creamy chicken affair, a little piece of tempura cod with warm (why warm?) tartare sauce and a marble sized portion of beef tartare on a croute topped with what seemed to be those little balls of balsamic vinegar.
To put it simply, the trouble that had gone into these did not translate into joy on the palate. They were, in the vernacular sense of the word, grand.
Our starters, when they finally turned up were (from the pre-dinner menu) beef cheek rillettes with gherkin and they were, in fact, decent enough bistro fare. The rich meat element was cut with diced gherkin and this, the simplest dish of the night, was let down only by a couple of Melba-ish slices of bread which had been crisper, no doubt, at an earlier stage. By the time we had them, they were wilting somewhat.
A riff on venison, from the dearer menu, looked impressive. There was a tiny pie, in impeccably fashioned pastry, with variations on beetroot, carrot purée and, bizarrely, a kind of red wine reduction dotted in little globules around the plate. Apart from the last element, which tasted simply unpleasant – why do this, for heaven’s sake? – the dish was okay.
Mains were from a different planetary system. “Torched” cod – it seemed pan-fried to me – was impeccably cooked to the nanosecond of perfection. A rich, brown butter sauce was a triumph. A big wedge of lemon would have completed matters but nobody had thought of that.
Black sole, rolled into a cylinder – a ballotine according to our waiter – was equally impeccably cooked. This is no mean feat. It came with “burnt cauliflower” which sounded ominous but turned out to be a kind of pleasant enough caramelised purée, plus parsley, grapes and, the menu claimed, prosecco. We didn’t find it but perhaps it worked some kind of magic within the composition.
Layered potatoes cooked in stock and finished in the oven looked good. But we thought they were just plain nasty and metallic- tasting.
A shared dessert of – menu description here – chocolate, peanut butter, honeycomb and popcorn was cloyingly sweet and fiddly in presentation. The peanut butter seemed to have been parachuted in and was just confused to find itself here, and the popcorn was well on the way to limpness.
Yes, we were disappointed. Annoyed too, but just at the pace of service. The disappointment was at such obvious talent getting bogged down in trying to be over-complicated and over-ambitious. There is no shame in simplicity; indeed there should be pride and joy in simplicity. Bells and whistles are best left to restaurants with an army of chefs, and even then they sometimes detract from what is really important. The food.
With mineral water, two glasses of wine and one coffee, the bill came to €83.15.