The Lady Helen Dining Room at Mount Juliet House is unique, both for the panoramic views it enjoys over the estate and the river Nore, and for the variety of international dishes that are prepared using fresh produce and herbs, picked daily from the estate's own herb and vegetable gardens.
Few estates match the splendour of Mount Juliet. Set among 1500 acres of rolling pastures, with the Nore flowing through it, it is a bit of heaven. We have been lucky enough to visit on several occasions, and Paolo was always a big fan. Here, from a few years back, he waxed lyrically on the grandeur of it all.
I'll admit right now at the start of this review, I really like grand houses. They ring bells for me deep in my cellular structure. Maybe in some previous life I was lucky enough to live in a mansion with hundreds of acres of parkland, mature specimen trees, a salmon-stuffed river running through the grounds, beautifully proportioned rooms decorated with fine plasterwork by Italian maestros, and enough staff to make life truly comfortable. Actually, as a description of a country house, that fits Mount Juliet perfectly. It has all of those qualities, plus a few more as well The dining room is majestic - high-ceilinged, with fine plasterwork picked out in pastel shades and a view over the River Nore to the large post-and-railed fields where horses grazed in the evening sun.
The Lady Helen is in one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Ireland. I can say this with some certainty, having been in most of the others. Now they have the Michelin Star to back it up, and have retained same for three years now. The high ceilings and beautifully ornate walls form a space that was made for elegant dining, and the large tables are well spaced. On a dark November evening this is a grand room in a fabulous mansion that is itself one of the most beautiful in the country.
The plasterwork here is unique, all the walls are adorned with Friezes, and suck is that richness that no pictures are required. The ceiling is especially beautiful, and is divided into sections, painted in shades of blue and green.
There are a choice of menus; A la carte, a seven course set menu, and the Chefs special selection nine course menu. In the interests of research, and not at all motivated by greed, I decided on the nine course option. I will run through the dishes and hopefully give you a good idea of the skill and flavours on show here.
First up is a pre Amuse Bouche, a smoked bacon and Gruyere cheese ball on a little plank, it was a strong flavoured, delicious morsel. A glass of excellent Prosecco from the Veneto accompanied.
Breads had come to the table as well and one was incredible, the others merely excellent. The bacon and onion bread should probably be on a list somewhere under dangerous; anything that tastes this good must be controlled, possibly only available on prescription.
The real Amuse bouche came along, a spherical cod brandade with white onion veloute, or a little fish cake with white onion soup, either way it was delicious.
My first dish proper was a delicate creation of king crab, with fennel radish and tomato, over which was poured and Japanese Yuzu sauce; a tangy lemony confection that perfectly complemented the sweet crab and crunchy radish. I loved the Rose d’Angou that accompanied, a sweet but crisp wine, and I often think Rose gets a little overlooked in the noise of white wine fashion.
Veal sweetbreads next made a brief appearance, and they brought along artichoke, truffle, onion and parmesan. They were light and faintly tangy, and wonderful. An Italian wine from the north west, a petit Chablis of a thing almost, all minerally and crisp, held its own here.
Fish came next, specifically John Dory with cabbage, leek and lemon. Perfectly cooked au pointe, it was a perfect dish of the sea.
Attention turned from sea to glade next with wild venison served with parsnip, salsify and wonderful, colourful and robust rainbow chard. Red wine turned up; Syrah and Grenache, from the Rhone valley.
Pre dessert was a delicate cucumber and lime parfait, with an avocado sorbet. This unusual combination was a brilliant gateway dish from the heavy red meat to the sweetness to follow and was really very good indeed.
Two desserts came along, one following the other with the sureness of calamity, but no such troubles in the execution, for both were pictures of perfection; coconut parfait with caramelised pineapple sat on a Muscavado sponge with lime pastille, while a Tonka bean and caramel soufflé was light and delicious with banana ice cream. Dessert wines were also a duo; both French, a Barsac and Brut from Champagne brought a glorious meal to an end.
There’s a lot to love in Mount Juliet, and nothing to complain about. The service was excellent - friendly and professional without being stuffy. The food was as good as anything I have had anywhere in the last twelve months, and the prices excellent value for the quality of the food and the surroundings.
It is also a breath of fresh air; where increasingly smart new hotels are trying just too hard, there is no air of desperation here, no over the top gestures, just confidence in a house and restaurant that really needs no pretension. Excellent in every respect.
**I stayed in the Mount Juliet Suite, which is a beautiful and looks out over the river and paddocks beyond. Early the next morning I took a walk down the river before a breakfast of eggs Benedict looking out at the view. If you haven’t experienced Mount Juliet please do, it is very special.