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Last night, we enjoyed a sitting of the Tasting Menu at The Cliff House in Ardmore. What follows is my *best effort at recalling the dishes, and the experience at large.
*Some dishes may be best described with the assistance of the maître d', rather than Cian after a Gin Martini.
First, we started with an amuse-bouche of what was essentially a cream of onion soup of sorts. This also came with a selection of smaller bites: Beetroot Macaroons , Baby Potatoes and Broccoli puree’d in a soy gelatinous glaze.
Around this time, a selection of breads also arrived. Fennel Bread, Seaweed Bread, and a fantastic Spelt Loaf. These added a real colour for what was to come, for there were not any normal loaves.
Now, our first course. This consisted of a pan-seared scallop which was perfectly cooked, with a beautiful crust on the outside & ever-so-slightly translucent towards the centre. The scallop was topped with herring caviar, which really made the dish pop. This was a giant scallop, and I typically prefer those slightly smaller size (somewhere between bay & these), since the ratio of wonderfully-seared-outside to translucent-centre feels a little more balanced in texture, but these were delicious none the less. Along with the scallops were razor clams, served on the shell. These were beautifully presented, and perfectly paired. The last of the “House Starters” was Duck Foie Gras, encased in some form of culinary paint and surrounded with micro-mushrooms. This was the only course of the entire meal I’d shy away from in future. Of course, there’s an ethical dilemma - but 75% of the meat I eat when dining out in the United States is food lot produced, so if I were to draw a line, where does it start? No, the bigger issue here is it’s a rich, heavy paté which is rather tough to get through, even in the small portion provided.
Next was what I always think of as a Cliff House Signature, their Smoked Salmon. At this point, anybody contemplating dining here in future, spoiler alert. The salmon arrives in a dome, into which smoke is piped. The grand reveal leaves the table clouded in the wood smoke which flavoured the salmon & everything else inside. It’s the most spectacular of grand reveals, and has always been the highlight of my visits here.
Next was the Spring Chicken & Lobster. The lobster was mostly a bisque, but also stuffed the cherry tomatoe. This was served with a fried chicken wafer (possibly the skin), which had the entire table raving. For me, the single poached leek was the tastiest leek I’ve ever had - maybe this was cooked sous vide?
Next was the (Rose - yay, ethical!) Veal course. This was served with a cylinder of white asparagus (left), and cylinder of spinach (right), along with potato gnocchi and fried sweetbread. The veal jus, in particular, was delightfully rich - almost a syrup.
Now, the deserts. First up was what could be best described as a pavlova in practice - meringue wafers atop a rice vanilla “pudding” (only nothing like rice pudding - actually, y’know, nice). The Sea Buckthorn puree was hidden at the bottom of the dish, and it was drizzled in a hop syrup. This, of course, was of immediate interest to this amateur restaurantsbrewer. Turns out it’s simple syrup (of cocktail fame), with hops included on the boil. So simple, so effective - something I’ll be experimenting with.
Last was a chocolate course, 65%, so not too bitter - but tasted like no chocolate I’ve had recently. A league of it’s own, and paired ( as all good chocolate courses now seem to be) with chocolate and sea salt.
One of the points of contention for many in higher-end resteraunts is the level of excess to the service, veering towards pomp. I think a balance of attention to detail and subtlety is important, and The Cliff House strikes the balance. Nobody is insisting on pulling out my chair, or placing my napkin. The courses arrived promptly, were described excellently, and all questions we fielded were answered politely and in detail.
As before, the Tasting Menu at the Cliff House was probably the pinnacle of culinary experiences I’ve had. I can compare to several tasting menus in the United States, and confirm even some of the better-rated New York eateries (Vitae, Degustation) come close, but don’t compare. The elusive star is a venerable standard, and the Cliff House certainly seems worthy. Unfortunately, I can’t compare another Michelin Star - yet. Michelin don’t seem to rate Boston enough to visit, so I’ll have to hunt out a comparable tasting menu in NY.