A visit to Terre is not for the faint hearted. This new fine dining restaurant located in the grounds of the Castlemartyr Estate in East Cork works the immaculate angle to the nth degree, and service like that lightens the wallet ferociously fast.
Terre is housed in the Manor House with its restrained elegance and clean lines. It’s backed by serial restaurant and hospitality investors Peng Lo and Dr Stanley Queck; Vincent Crépel is at the helm as chef patron, directing his kitchen like a grand orchestra. Crépel’s style of cuisine is tightly precise, purposeful, tweezered – for sure, ambitious, beautiful to look at and delicious to taste.
It, like the drawing room diners are received into, the dining room from where most of the tasting menu is served, and attentive service from a hand-picked cohort of young, bright hospitality professionals, is a masterclass in immaculate perfection.
The term ‘journey’ has been over-utilised in fine dining in recent times, but in many ways, it aptly applies at Terre.
There is the physical journey the diner takes. Like stepping through the magical wardrobe of C.S Lewis’s imagination, ordinary people shed their drab real lives and emerge into a world where, for a few hours, we all can live like the fabled other half – a world of luxury, incredible wines, world-class food, and people who exude an air of being here for you and you alone. Tasting menus are served over multiple hours and served in different sections of the restaurant, and each course is finished table-side accompanied by descriptions of ingredients, techniques and flavours. It’s a dinner and a show.
There is also the journey of the chef himself. There is very little interaction between diner and chef, so the space in between is filled with myriad personal expressions of his career and ambition translated by the able front of house team: from the seductively back lit wall lined with Michelin guides from every year since Crépel’s birth, to the heavily detailed descriptions of produce and producers hand selected because Crépel considers them the best of the best.
The restaurant is open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday 6:30pm – 8:30pm (last sitting), and lunch Friday and Saturday 1 – 2pm (last sitting). The restaurant is closed Sunday to Tuesday. Dinner is eight-courses (€210pp), and lunch five courses (€110pp). All drinks are additional, that includes water and coffee; aperitifs and digestifs are encouraged (deep-pocketed admirers of Armagnac are well catered for!) There is a wine list, but wine-pairings are enthusiastically encouraged. The Petit Accord (€110) is a superb selection of small-scale wine producers, while The Grand Accord (€220) soaks diners in servings of big, bolshy Bordeaux wines.
There is also a novel Tea Pairing; at €55, it represents good value for money and is a more interesting approach for pairing that works as well, if not better, than wine. Terre have selected only Oolong tea and only from Taiwan, but the showcase of variety, tea production methods, brewing techniques and serving temperatures open a whole new language of beverage appreciation that’s not available anywhere else in Ireland (yet).
Crépel has spent time in his career working around Asia and Europe; no surprise that his style is a marriage of classic French/European technique with the umami-laden flavours of southeast Asia. Think consommé-like broths flavoured with kelp, cured tuna belly and water-bathed turbot, impeccable sauces where miso and vermouth collide and deliver new levels of flavour, and gelato made from rice paired with springtime rhubarb.
There are familiar flavours and flavours less familiar, put them together and heretofore anodyne palates struggle to find a point of reference but surrender to the waves of deliciousness anyway.
Not everything hits the mark: the much-anticipated Otoro course of cured tuna belly presents like a work of art. But the delicate flavour of tuna is washed away by a too-acidic soup of verjus, too much pickling and sake washing of the once fatty, melodic Goatsbridge Trout Roe. The blatant upselling of a brand of caviar (which Crépel is an ambassador for), at €35 for a tiny spoon of with which to top off the turbot, just plain awkward for all; if the dish needs caviar, put it on – don’t make me choose.
But I’d forgive all of that for another taste of the venison main course. Air-dried in salt chambers in the kitchen, the delicate venison loin is seared over flavoursome bincho charcoal and served with caramelised endive and a sauce good enough to swim in.
An honourable mention also to the dessert: rice gelato, a light-as-air, cloud-like and gravity defying way to finish off the meal. Jasmine milk tea, matcha and sweet early season rhubarb left us feeling as though were tasting the smell of a Mediterranean summer evening – all gardenia and jasmine.
It was a lunch of two halves with the second half, from turbot on, coming out strong and leaving the first half for dust. The food is very good indeed – not the best I’ve ever tasted, even in Cork. But certainly, the attention to detail, the professional, affable, attentive service, and the gifted sommeliers for both wine and tea, are what sets this culinary experience apart.
And, as Crépel seems to be unabashed at his Michelin-studded ambitions, (and not a stranger to them either, having attained the coveted accolades at previous restaurants), it is that service and detail married to a very high standard of food that will surely get him there at Terre, too.
Do I feel as though Crépel’s vision has translated to my palate as intended? Absolutely. Do I get a sense of his passion? If by passion I mean the ambition to be the best and achieve the most accolades possible, then yes. But in the food? No; there’s no room for flailing passions in the strict regimen of this culinary vision.
Terre isn’t a restaurant for those who seek to see Crépel’s technical brilliance played out on local, even Irish, produce. Terre is a restaurant for those who want to journey on the coattails of a talented and ambitious chef, and don’t mind the price tag that comes with it.
Lunch for two with one Petit Accord and one Tea Pairing, water, coffee, an aperitif and digestif, plus tip, came in over €500. For dinner, expect to shell out an additional €250-300 for two.
Michelin Guide, Britain and Ireland, will be announcing their 2023 stars at the end of March. The rumblings around Terre are that it’s likely to be a shoo-in. It remains to be seen what happens, but Terre has staked its claim with a clarion wail and wears its ambition on its sleeve.
Is it worth the jaw dropping price tag? Ultimately, that’s a matter of opinion. Do I feel as though I have consumed €500 worth of food and drink? No. Did I enjoy the experience? Very much so. Would I recommend it? Depends on who is asking!
WRITTEN BY KATE RYAN – FLAVOUR.IE