The Orangery
Cliff at Lyons
Co. Kildare
Phone: 01 630 3500

Irish Daily Mail
8 October 2016

When the press release landed in my inbox I thought it was about a book. “Botanical Cooking by Nathan Dimond, with Martijn Kajuiter”. Well, it sounded interesting and, as it happens, I had produced a book with Martijn a few years ago about the exceptional food that he produces at the Cliff House in Ardmore.

But no, it was about a restaurant in the village at Lyons, an extraordinary place that demonstrates what happens when a large fortune, a passion for architectural salvage and something approaching good taste, collide. This is the late Tony Ryan’s monument.

The Orangery restaurant is within the William Turner conservatory that Tony brought here and it’s an impressive room. It’s an off-shoot of both the Cliff House and the Cliff Town House, which is encouraging, and while “botanical cooking” is a new one on me I like the idea that the website bangs on about: using vegetables and fruit from the gardens or small producers.

There is much emphasis on booking which, according to the website is “essential”. So I booked and was phoned up later to confirm. It was a bit odd, therefore, to have the entire restaurant to ourselves for most of the time we spent there.

I have a terrible suspicion that the restaurant was only in its second day of operation but the charming staff were a bit evasive as to when things had kicked off.

The menu tries to be different, not least in how it’s set out. Let me quote one of our starters:

Romain Lettuce (they mean romaine) and then a gap and then Lobster | Tomato | Yoghurt | Mint

It just looks pretentious.

Anyway, an amuse bouche of what I think was a combination of orange and carrot juice with fennel tasted like something you might have to ward off a cold. Or in a health farm.

The lettuce with lobster was very good indeed, the lobster firm, juicy, perfectly cooked. The lettuce was crisp and succulent and there seemed to be a kind of tomato dressing which was delightful.

Our other starter – and I’ll spare you the typography – was curiously entitled “Garden 13/7/16” which suggested that the ingredients had been picked in July. And the rest was black olive, goat’s cheese, lovage, vinegar. Of all of these I could certainly find the goat’s cheese, rolled into little balls and covered in a green powder. There were tiny chanterelles, minute discs of chioggia beetroot, a baby pak choi leaf, a sliver of dehydrated red onion, I think... There was more but let’s just say that it was underwhelming, lacking in cohesion. It seemed just to have happened. And where was the vinegar?

I was so distracted by an “essence of black pudding” – a shiny pool of slick black liquid – in one of our mains that I can’t quite swear as to what fish was sitting in it but I think it was seabass. The fish tasted equally confused. Why do this to black pudding? Why do it to fish? And why throw in scallops and pink grapefruit? This was a dish that made so little sense we were bemused.

Rosé veal was soft, flabby and flavourless but came with a jus that tasted great. It also came with a grilled leek that did what grilled leeks always do – become stringy on the outside with only the core being edible. And according to the menu there were gnocchi. I found two tiny green balls, uncanilly like the goat’s cheese ones in appearance but not taste, which may have been them. Dehydrated fennel, in a sliver, tasted of very little and the whole dish, to be frank, was not cheered up by the presence of a nasturtium flower and neonate nasturtium leaf.

Again, we were asking why? And where were the flavours? It was as if all the effort had gone into making a picture on the plate which was, indeed, pretty.

Things looked up at the pudding stage. Something called Organic chocolate 75% Tanzania single plantation 2015, Avocado Oil, Orange Salt, “White Coffee”was delicious: essentially an intense mousse with a salty, creamy citrussy partner and a kind of coffee ice cream.

A combination of blackberries, apple, almond milk and granola was less successful. And the promised lemon verbena was so subtle it might not have been there.

With four glasses of wine, two bottles of mineral water and a coffee the bill came to €165.50.