Aside from its attractive, warm and elegantly-furnished interior, the impressive range of dishes at The Conservatory in Ireland’s sunniest county of Wexford has helped make this restaurant an ever-popular fine-dining experience.
Twelve starters, a similar number of mains and ten desserts means no diner – regardless of taste – would be lost for choice. With such a wide selection, the only challenge might be in the choosing.
Starters alone varied from local crab salad crostini, confit chicken with pistachio and apricot terrine and black pudding with Granny Smith burnt apple puree.
Range of choice also applies to the restaurant’s outstanding wine menu, a classic cellar in more than name only. Reflecting the accomplishments and commitment of the sommelier, I listed vintages from France, Italy, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Austria, Argentina, South Africa and Australia. Among them, there was even a splendid organic red from Chateau Musar in the Bekaa Valley, 25 miles east of Beirut, a vineyard founded by legendary viticulturist Gaston Hochar in 1930, inspired by Lebanon’s 6,000 year winemaking tradition. The Conservatory also offers a selection of Grand Crus from Bordeaux for those special occasions including a 1952 Château Mouton Rothschild 1952 priced at 1,550 euro. Some of the champagnes in the cellars are almost 30 years old.
Located in the tranquil grounds of Marfield House Hotel, an opulent Regency mansion at the end of a countryside lane, an hour from Dublin, the restaurant itself overlooks luscious, well-tended gardens on a 36-acre estate. It is in these gardens that many of the succulent herbs, fruits and vegetables originate that are transformed by executive chef Ruadhan Furlong and his staff into a variety of tantalising dishes. Others are sourced locally.
We arrived on a damp, windy evening (weather like this occurs in Ireland sometimes) and were charmed by the soft rays of lighting forming a penumbra on sturdy oak trees in the parking area.
This sense of natural tranquility continued inside with a romantic setting complete with fresh yellow roses and lilies on the table, flowering plants in containers and framed portraits and landscape paintings strategically placed throughout the restaurant.
Crisp white tablecloths, lighted candles and sparkling silver added to the overall ambience while white frescoed walls and ceiling enhanced the kaleidoscope of color in the furnishings, including soft, candy-striped seating and gold satin curtains. Alabaster busts were everywhere, making me think I should know of whom who they are, but I didn’t, uncivilised savage as I am.
Our starters comprised crispy pork belly, with a spiced ginger glaze, creating comforting warmth on a raw, wet evening; and pan-seared scallops, their texture enhanced by slices of both fresh and dried apple. This was followed by a leak and potato soup served in an espresso-style cup, flavored with herbs from the hotel’s garden.
Knowing we’d soon be battling rambunctious Nature outside, my companion and I chose two hearty meat dishes, seared fillet of highly-prized aged Wexford beef in a béarnaise and red wine jus and roast loin of venison with thyme roasted parsnips and juniper berry jus. Tender, sliced and generous in size, they prepared us well to face the elements outside.
With the ocean less than fifteen minutes away, fish and seafood lovers will feel right at home at The Conservatory with oysters, mussels, prawns, halibut, shrimp and monkfish among the catch. At the same time, carnivores are well catered for with guinea fowl and lamb alongside steak and pancetta. Vegetarians dishes include sun-dried tomato arancini; courgette, roasted red pepper and basil salsa; and ratatouille.
A rich dessert menu featuring poached homegrown pink rhubarb and ginger biscuit to pistachio puree and raspberries sorbet was too tempting to forgo. Being a chocoholic, I chose the tantalising fondant with salted caramel ice-cream and my companion a tarte tatin of Marfield orchard apple, cinnamon ice-cream and cider sabayon.
An artisan cheese platter comprises products from various regions of Ireland Cashel Blue from Tipperary; Gubeen from Cork; Tipperary Brie and Clonattin Cheddar from Wicklow.
Hotel director, Margaret Bowe, a member of the family who owns Marfield House Hotel, provided her own brand of dry wit and interesting slices of local news throughout our dinner, making sure we lacked for nothing. Margaret, and her sister Laura, are daughters of Ray and Mary Bowe who opened the hotel in 1978.
After enjoying a veritable feast, it was no surprise to notice enroute to the bathroom a plethora of prestigious national and regional awards covering the walls of a narrow corridor.