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A former Michelin-star chef brings an elevated touch to this new restaurant

A fine dining menu that reflects the local terroir admirably

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Address: 10 Main St, Knocknamoe, Abbeyleix, Co Laois, R32 D8C0
Telephone: 087-9466824
Cuisine: Modern International
Cost: €€€

Is there no end to the onward march of tasting menus? Full disclosure, this one is self-imposed because there is a choice between an a la carte and a tasting menu. But given that the chef/proprietor is Sam Moody, the former head chef of Ballyfin, who previously landed a Michelin star for the Bath Priory restaurant in the UK, I sense that there may be aspirations here.

The fact that the tasting menu is €70 is also a factor. Incredible as it may seem, it’s at the lower end of the scale for this style of restaurant and is just a few euro more expensive than taking the three-course approach.

It’s a smart room, indeed, Abbeyleix is a very smart heritage town, once a popular stopping point on the way to Cork, and across the street from the much-loved pub Morrissey’s. It’s a Friday night, the room is starting to fill up, and we settle into a comfortable banquette.

It’s a seven-course menu, nine if you count the small snack and bread as courses, but that could make it seem a little bit daunting, which it is not. A 23-course surprise tasting menu put the frighteners on me recently. You need to get in training for that level of commitment. A week’s starvation perhaps.


Straight from the tasting menu playbook, the first bite is made to seduce. It’s a delicious panisse, the crispy chickpea chips that originate in the south of France, dolloped with a lemon emulsion. Brown bread with home-made butter arrives, followed by a frothy mushroom soup with a bright green chive oil in a dainty white tea cup. It is light and packed with flavour.

For the next course, slices of heirloom tomatoes, green, yellow and two shades of red, are arranged attractively on a plate and a thin slice of courgette curls on top, sprinkled with micro herbs. Underneath is creamy goat’s curd, and tomato water is poured over, adding a refreshing note. This is followed by half a honey-glazed quail, which is sprinkled with crunchy bits for added flavour and texture. A finger bowl is provided and digging right in is encouraged.

All of this is accompanied by a bottle of Chateau Presque Chardonnay (€36), from a short wine list that would definitely benefit from a bit of attention.

The fish course is next: Kilmore Quay cod with braised white beans, which sits on sautéed fennel, dotted with paprika emulsion and black olive tapenade. It’s a small canon of fish, which has been cured with salt for 24 hours, and then cooked gently in butter, building to a golden crust on the outside. The beans are good on the plate, but the tapenade may be just a little too much, as the fish provides the full quotient of salt for the overall dish.

Aged Angus beef is served rare, with an evenly coloured, juicy interior. It has been cooked sous vide and finished in butter, so the outside is browned but not quite charred. It makes for a consistent result, although my preference is to have it cooked in one step and seared more aggressively to build the caramelised flavours of the Maillard reaction. Slow-cooked featherblade fills a small beef fat pasty case with its intense flavours. It looks innocent enough, but between that, a quenelle of minced mushrooms, a tasty jus and hash fries, we are reaching full capacity for the savoury courses.

The first dessert, Wexford strawberries on Glenilen yogurt infused with vanilla and topped with elderflower granita, is a refreshing palate cleanser, the black pepper on the strawberries and touch of mint working nicely.

I’m slightly panicked that the final course is hot chocolate soufflé: it sounds like it might be the proverbial straw, but it is light, and the white chocolate ice cream holds back from being too sweet.

We are a little bit stuffed by the end of our meal; my lovely sister thinks she may be having twins. But this tasting menu is far from the marathon slogs that catch you unawares and we are spared the storytelling and experiential trope. It is relaxed, the service is delightful, and there is a real commitment to using top quality local produce. With just a little less generosity our exit could well have been more of a gracious glide than a rapacious waddle.

Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €176.

The verdict: A fine-dining menu that reflects the local terroir admirably.

Music: The Beatles.

Food provenance: Goatsbridge Farm, meat from Mick Keegan butchers, Fiorbhia Farm, La Rousse, The Red Shed, Garryhinch Mushrooms and Brown’s Greengrocer.

Vegetarian options: Vegetarian and vegan dishes such as hand-rolled gnocchi with mushrooms, and onion and carrot bhaji with baba ghanoush and couscous.

Wheelchair access: Accessible with accessible toilet.

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column