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The Old Couch in Waterford: Modern, inventive dishes on a clever tasting menu

Chef Luis Martin takes us on a jaunt around the world with vibrant flavours in a restaurant that will soon change its name

The Old Couch
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Address: 11 O'Connell Street, Waterford, X91 F304
Telephone: 089 4259696
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€€

My first bite looks like it could be a bit gimmicky: a wafer flower filled with a cream that is giving off serious Cheez Whiz energy. But it is absolutely delicious; crunchy with a creamy cheesiness, injected with heat from dots of jalapeño gel. It’s called “spicy cheese flower”, a description that is decidedly more informative than “Spain and Ireland meet Japan”, our next bite on the €110, 11-course tasting menu in The Old Couch restaurant in Waterford.

The international hook-up is a bao bun filled with crispy bacon and pickled red cabbage, deep-fried and striped with caramel, with wafts of floral notes and togarashi. It’s inventive and intriguing.

Chef Luis Martin took over The Old Couch last year, and on April 1st, after a year of toiling behind his own stove, he plans to change the name to Mara. The double-height room is charcoal black, and slim shelves prop up eclectically-framed driftwood and antlers. Pendant lighting counters the inky hue and a spray of dried foliage billows overhead. There are six tables, and a semi-open kitchen is visible behind the bar on a slightly higher level.

Martin, born in Santander, spent time working under chef Jesus Sanchez in Cenador de Amós, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Cantabria, and he brings a decidedly international and modern slant to his cooking. Having also spent time in a number of hotel restaurants around Ireland, he is familiar with top-quality Irish produce, which he integrates into his seasonal menus.

Warm mushroom jelly and deep-fried egg yolk follows. We are advised to break the egg yolk, which is encased in a thick batter, and the yolk streams out to season the mushrooms in a mahogany jelly. A board of Guinness bread and Japanese bread arrives, with smoked miso butter and duck fat and orange butter.

The wine, which is sourced from just one supplier, would benefit from a few more eclectic bottles. There’s a fairly mainstream focus on organic wine, so I opt for a bottle of Maximo Abete Tres Partes (€40), a light Spanish Garnacha, rather than the €70 wine pairing.

The next dish is a meeting of Italy and Korea – a carbonara foam, dusted with kimchi powder, which floats on top of a braised beef raviolo. There’s perhaps a little too much heat in the kimchi powder which numbs the palate slightly and overwhelms the delicate flavours in the foam. The raviolo is rich with slow-cooked beef that has been pulled apart.

The last savoury course is an Instagram-worthy pigeon dish. The pigeon leg has been deboned, the meat formed into a nugget and wrapped around the leg, which still has the claw, breaded and deep-fried. The breast has been seared on the outside and is unashamedly rare. An earthy liver pâté, a dollop of sauerkraut, a sphere of sherry jelly and a meaty jus complete this very tasty dish.

Clearly Martin is a chef who relishes dessert, as three follow the palate cleanser of sweet lemon curd in a tiny cone. The baked Alaska is a bit of fun, served on an ice cream stick that is stuck into a small brown couch. Peaks of hot torched meringue encase icy cold clementine sorbet. Accompanying it is a chestnut sponge, topped with celeriac ice cream and dusted with hazelnut praline. There’s a caramel sauce, bringing a sweet, sticky pudding vibe to the dish, but I’m not convinced that celeriac ice cream is the best use of this root vegetable.

The cep tiramisu is dusted with what I am guessing is a combination of dried ceps and cocoa powder. I can get the aroma of the ceps, but on the palate it is barely discernible, which is possibly a good thing – it could be a bit overwhelming. The mascarpone topping is a foam and at this stage I’m feeling that maybe there’s too much of the foam. A smaller portion of this dish would possibly work better.

Petit fours follow, which are tasty, but lack precision in execution. If there are Michelin ambitions here (and there could well be, the media company recently listed The Old Couch in its UK and Ireland Guide), these would need to be sharper.

There is a brightness and immediacy to the food here, and clearly the chef is enjoying the agility of bringing many influences to his dishes. This reverberates in the room where the atmosphere is friendly and everyone seems to be having a good time.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €260.

The verdict: World flavours on a clever tasting menu.

Music: Norah Jones-type sounds in the background.

Food provenance: Tom Cleary vegetables, La Rousse, Billy Burke fish, The Sea Garden seaweeds.

Vegetarian options: Vegetarian tasting menu available. No vegan menu.

Wheelchair access: Accessible room with no accessible toilet.

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