The Chestnut restaurant is in the increasingly hip Ballydehob, and is where Rob Krawczek and his partner Elaine Fleming have created a food destination in a single summer.
Rob was the chef in the much missed Chophouse in Lismore, followed by a very successful stint in Tankardstown House, where he won best chef in Leinster on two occasions. We first reviewed his cooking there, and I brought the late Paolo Tullio along, who was very taken with his style and awarded the food 10/10, which was a rare enough occurrence.
The Chestnut only seats 18 people for dinner, and it is an intimate and stylish space. It was an old pub – The Chestnut tree - and it retains some of the original features, but they have been cleaned and polished, and olive green walls and an off white ceiling create a tranquil mood. The old bar in the front room is particularly striking, and almost looks as if someone created it on purpose for this new space, it is bang on trend with shiny dark wood panelling and black counter top. Tables are well spaced and a small team led by Elaine move effortlessly, making it feel very homely almost.
There is a choice of a la Carte or the tasting menu, and both change frequently. The late AA Gill once quipped that there is nothing as boring as reading what someone had for dinner last night, so I will skip over the detail, and just highlight the standouts.
Before any the dishes appeared a basket of bread with cold smoked butter came. I love smoked butter, and with fresh homemade bread it was a treat. The first three courses are really amuse bouche en mass, and the first of smoked mackerel was fabulous. Beef tomato is nowhere near as simple as it sounds; it was in fact beef dipped in magic essence of tomato, with coats the meat and makes it look like a tomato. They even added the little green sprig on top. It was delicious, and a perfect course on a tasting menu; inventive and whimsical.
The main courses were mostly fish, and mussels with tapioca, roe and seaweed was a standout. Served as a dainty fish stew in a lovely little dish it was light and delicate and allowed the mussels to shine through.
Scallops on cauliflower were excellent, and a piece of hake with courgette and dill was perfect. Bringing up the rear was duck with burnt apple and cabbage duck, which was succulent and juicy and overall the balance and portions were perfectly judged, allowing you to enjoy the array without becoming too full.
Just a little note on the tableware. Each dish comes in its own perfectly chosen dish. Elaine and Rob have carefully selected delph from many corners of Ireland to suit the food, and that’s the level of detail and commitment on show in Chestnut.
There is a lot of rubbish spouted about food these days, some of it by people who should know better. One of them is food heroes. In this case I think we can apply it fairly and squarely to Rob and Elaine, who had a vision to do something they are completely passionate about, exactly the way they thought it should be done.
It takes courage to do that, and not some little talent and skill to pull it off. Here that have succeeded in spades, and I shouldn't wonder that the Michelin men will be taking a keen interest in this little outpost of food perfection in tiny Ballydehob.
*Rob isn't the only creative in this little partnership; Elaine is the inhouse photographer.