The chef Robbie Krawcyzk Tankardstown House
I’m betting that the softly spoken, art school educated Robbie Krawcyzk will have the “humble” word tacked to his name again and again over the next few years, as the foodie firmament discover his fine dining menu at Tankardstown House, Trish Conroy’s Co Meath masterclass in hospitality.
He is perfectly versed in the current New Nordic gastro codes of pickling, smoking, curing (Robbie’s father is Irish charcuterie pioneer Frank Krawczyk) and foraging – which suit Irish produce and cooking traditions so well when employed with wit and intelligence. His beautiful dishes include the obligatory on-trend touches of spherification, dehydration, micro leaves, crispy chicken skin and slow-cooked egg yolks, yet rarely does the drama loosen his grip on flavour.
Like his first mentor, Richard Corrigan, Robbie was raised with the pure and simple excellence of home-grown Irish ingredients.
His West Cork childhood (his parents grew their own organic vegetables) meant that the proper taste of things was forever imprinted on his palate.
And it is this, more than anything else, that shines through his sparky, super-accomplished cooking. Blind tasting Badger and Dodo ground coffee, Blackwater blend: (Takes a sniff, recoils a little. Good start.) “Humm. Coffee. Very chocolatey. (Looks put-out, apologetic.) I’m not a big coffee person. It makes me ill. Only way I can drink it is very weak and milky.”
(Brightens up.) “Now gin, that doesn’t make me ill. I’ve been messing around with it a lot. Curing salmon in it with beetroot and smoking it afterwards, sticking it in the Pacojet with cucumber and tonic for sorbet . . . Next thing I’m opening here, after a smokehouse, is a gin room.”
Durrus cheese: “Mmm. It’s Durrus? Nice cheese Durrus.” (Long pause)
“You know, there’s not a lot of dairy on the menu. Why? People are allergic, it’s heavy, it clouds flavour, there’s the whipped butter and a couple of espumas, but I try to stay away. I prefer olive oil.”
“Not Irish rapeseed?” I ask.
“I’m not a big fan. It’s still too harsh, I find. Taints the food, gets bitter when the temperature is too high.
Ballyhoura Honeysuckle Syrup: (Big smile.) “Mmm, very nice. Delicate. Is it some kind of honey? I’d use that with white chocolate, strawberries, poached rhubarb, berries and sorbets of the moment. Like all the menu, it’s nature that dictates what goes on here.”
I ask him how all this natural delicateness goes down with the hard-to-please locals. After all, not everyone can afford to come up from Dublin to overnight in the gorgeously cosy big-house bedrooms and courtyard apartments.
"It's the steak. When you take steak off the menu in Ireland, you change everything. You up your game as a chef, but it's a huge commercial risk. In the city you can get away with it." There is no steak on his tasting menu, but it is available on the more casual menus at Tankardstown.
I think back to owner Trish Conroy’s words as she explained how for her, at Tankardstown, it was Robbie she believed in just as much as the luxury Daylesford-goes-to-Provence destination she has slowly and brilliantly created from her family home.
“I never let myself forget that, without an exciting chef, we are just a big house in a field.”
Tankardstown House Hotel, Co Meath, tel: 041-982 4621, tankardstown.ie