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The Morrison Room at Carton House review: this very fine restaurant is on track to land a Michelin star

This is Michelin central casting – Lafranchini stuccowork, a tasting menu and unashamed grandeur

The Morrison Room
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Address: Carton House, Carton Demesne, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, W23 TD98
Telephone: 01 505 2000
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€€

The Michelin guide will be doing its thing on Monday, with the international director, Gwendal Poulenc, announcing the 2024 gongs.

“Michelin by numbers” – white linen dining, studied creations from luxe ingredients and imperious sommeliers – has been the traditional trajectory for gaining stars, and while back stories (yawn) may have replaced cloches and more casual restaurants now feature, there is still a sense that there is a formula to making the cut.

The Morrison Room at Carton House Fairmont in Maynooth, Co Kildare, is Michelin central casting – Lafranchini brothers’ stuccowork, a tasting menu and unashamed grandeur. You can go all out with the €135 tasting menu or take it a little bit easier with the €110 chef’s five course menu, which I do.

The experience starts in the sittingroom, and if you are celebrating, you may be tempted by the Champagne trolley (go for the Henriot rosé), or you could ask for the wine list (classic, with punchy prices to match) and start with an accessible bottle such as the Torre Raone Pecorino (€46). Ian McDonnell (ex Ballyfinn Demesne, L’Ecrivain and Ashford Castle) is the sommelier and restaurant manager here, so it is well worth consulting him, indicating your price point.

The chef’s menu is a “surprise”, which is always a stress point for me after a bizarre experience in a London restaurant (since closed).

The amuse bouche are delicious, served on a starched, folded white napkin, which seems to be de rigueur these days. Beef tartare is given a bit of punch with mustard, scallops are topped with a zingy citrus jelly, and a triangular bite of brittle pastry filled with Knockanore cheese is sublime. There is also a pig’s head croquette, so plenty to whet your appetite for what is to follow in the magnificent diningroom, which despite its splendour does not feel too hushed and stuffy.

House-made coppa and salami come with the bread, followed by our first course, a meat dish, which leaves me wondering if we are going to have any fish.

Pearl barley risotto has layers of flavour, it is rich and I suspect not short on butter, topped with a cube of glazed beef short rib. Black truffle is grated over it at the table, elevating a dish which is essentially Irish in its components. It is a well-balanced dish which avoids being too heavy.

Barbecued lobster tail has been glazed in lobster oil and is finished at the table with a most wonderful bisque. It is nice to see that there is a sauce spoon so you can do justice to the bisque. It is so classic and beautiful that you may well be tempted to pick up the copper pot and knock it right back.

More work, I’d imagine, has gone into the making of that bisque than anything else on the menu. Sauces like this are the backbone of fine dining. It reflects years of work from a chef who has sweat it out in top kitchens learning the classics. A delicate beignet with claw meat is a clever accompaniment, delicious dipped in the sauce.

For our final savoury course, beef sirloin has been cooked old school in a pan, with a good charred crust on the outside, served with potato pithivier, like a boulangère inside pastry, and once again, truffle is grated over.

A palate cleanser of fresh clementines with mandarin jelly, yoghurt panna cotta and yoghurt sorbet, is my type of dessert, citrusy and refreshing, followed by a skilful Jivara chocolate dessert with brown butter sponge cake, salted milk sorbet and tiny cubes of jelly. To finish, another folded napkin appears, with petits fours.

In just more than a year, three Michelin star restaurants have closed in Ireland (Loam, Aimsir and Eipic in Belfast), and one, Ichigo Ichie, has relinquished the star and earned a Bib Gourmand within nine weeks of rebranding as a casual bistro. In addition, one new one has opened (Terre at Castlemartyr). So, while it is easy to say, oh no, not another tasting menu, the number of places we have to go to for a special occasion has dwindled considerably.

In a formal space like the Morrison Room, it is never going to be burgers and chips, and Adam Nevin (ex The Grill at The Dorchester, The Hand and Flowers and The Westbury in London) delivers a textbook Michelin experience. The inspectors have already been in, so with a few more visits, I would expect to see this very fine restaurant land a Michelin star.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and 10 per cent service charge was €292.60.

The verdict: Classic, very delicious food.

Music: The Jacksons, Earth Wind and Fire and easy listening.

Food provenance: Higgins’ beef, Glenmar fish, Durrus and Knockanore cheese.

Vegetarian options: Beetroot tart with Macroom burrata, gnocchi with Knockanore cheese, mushroom pithivier (vegan) and pearl barley and mushroom risotto (vegan).

Wheelchair access: Fully accessible with accessible toilet.

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