When you’re going out for an eagerly anticipated eight-course meal at a restaurant in the middle of the Tipperary countryside it would be nice to turn up a little early, take some time to appreciate the setting and relax while perusing the wine list. In an ideal world. As it happened, ten minutes after we were supposed to arrive, the Boyfriend and I – plus my Clonmel-based and Dublin-based Cousins, accompanied by the Chilli-Intolerant Husband and the Ex-Planner Partner – were still chugging along in a Clonmel taxi that seemed to be in no hurry to get us to our destination. As we pulled up outside the imposing frontage of The Old Convent, just outside Clogheen, there was a mad scramble to pay, figure out when we should be collected and get out of the taxi but, as soon as we set foot on the black and white tiled floor of the elegant hallway, all stress was over. Calmly greeted and smoothly ushered to our table by proprietor Christine Gannon, we settled into an evening of superb food, wonderful wine and great service.
The Old Convent, a true gourmet hideaway, offers a deceptively simple service: an eight course tasting meal for just €50. As we settled into our seats in the candle-lit dining room, complete with stained glass windows from its former incarnation, we were presented with the wine list and our attention was directed to a framed menu on the table. Christine’s husband, Dermot Gannon, is the chef and he places a decided emphasis on well-sourced ingredients – Ballybrado Organic Pork, Blakes Organic Chocolate, Ardsallagh, Crozier Blue and Gubbeen Chorizo all featured on the menu.
As we wondered how we were going to be able to eat our way from Ardsallagh Mac ‘n Cheese with Gubbeen Chorizo, all the way to an Old Convent signature dish – a fondue made with Blakes’s organic and fairtrade chocolate – the first course arrived on the table. Beautifully presented in martini glasses, a little scoop of macaroni cheese, made with diminutive pasta shapes, was topped with thin slices of Fingal Ferguson’s savoury chorizo. Elegant and satisfying, the portion size also reassured us that we might yet manage to make it to the eighth course.
We continued with a Ballybrado Organic Pork Salad, the meat tender to the touch of a fork, accompanied by salad leaves, Crozier Blue cheese, poached pears, caramelised pecans and a dark, sweetly spiced dressing. This was a substantial portion but a slight breather, in the form of an espresso cup of creamy and delicious Vanilla Pea Velouté with Mint Oil followed. The fish course was next – layers of Steamed Salmon and Hake, sitting on a Pistachio and Saffron Risotto with a Dublin Bay Prawn Bisque. The notes I was scribbling start to get shorter and less detailed from this stage of the meal as I put my full attention to the dishes and the wine in front of me.
We had ordered bottles of Aotea Sauvignon Blanc 2006, purely because of its Nelson connection, and, on Christine’s recommendation, Esencia Valdemar Rioja 2005. Neither bottle disappointed. Although I have been annoyed in the past by over-enthusiastic refilling of my wine glass, the well-trained staff at The Old Convent got the balance right between being attentive and merely trying to sell an extra bottle. In fact, two tiny incidents aside, the service was exemplary throughout, something that has become increasingly rare in my experience of restaurants in Ireland.
To be continued….
The Old Convent, Clogheen, Co Tipperary, 052 65565. www.theoldconvent.ie