First things first, spending this much money on dinner is (for most of us) a very expensive hobby. We forego new clothes, beauty treatments, expensive watches, because food and epicurean experiences are all we care about spending our cash on, and fill our cups up to their very tops. If you're not this type of person, look away in horror now, because we're rolling with the big boys here.
A second disclaimer:
If you already have a trip booked here and it's coming up soon, maybe don't read this, and save the surprises for yourself.
What's the background?
Two Singapore based investors Dr Stanley Queck and Peng Loh bought Castlemartyr Hotel and Golf Course last year. They also own Sheen Falls in Kerry, Trinity Townhouse in Dublin, and were the original backers for Niall Davidson's Allta (he now operates solo), as well as Kevin Burke's Library Street. Their company 'The Unlisted Collection' has over 20 restaurants in Singapore, London, Shanghai and Sydney - one with three Michelin stars, two with two stars and four with one star.
The Chef-Patron at Terre, Vincent Crepel, has worked in two and three-star restaurants across Europe, including for this group in Singapore, and they backed him in his first solo restaurant Porte 12 in Paris, which was open from 2014 - 2020. They then managed to convince him to uproot his life, leave his friends and family, and relocate to the grounds of a five-star hotel with carte blanche to cook with the 'French technique unpinning Asian flavours' that he loves, but with no doubt in anyone's mind that they expect this to be a two-star restaurant. The challenge was set, the challenge was accepted.
What's it going to set me back?
The tasting menu is €180 (up from €140 on opening, ouch), and the 'Petit Accord' wine pairing is €110. There's also a 'Grand Accord' pairing for €220, which comprises mainly of Premier and Grand Cru Burgundies. If you're going all in you're looking at a minimum spend of €290 a head before a welcome drink, tea or coffee afterwards, and/or a digestif in the salon. Budgeting in the range of €330 before tip would be more realistic.
What can I expect?
One of the most dynamic, delicious, dramatic dining experiences in Ireland right now. You enter Terre through a non-descript grey door at one end of the hotel, where manager Fergus McDevitt leads you into a dark corridor full of lit up jars of ferments and pickles, giving you some background on the restaurant and the grounds. Then another door opens and it's into the open kitchen where the chefs turn in unison to shout "Welcome!" (It's the only cringey part of the whole experience, just having head chef Vincent Crepel leading the welcoming committee would be much more easy on the stomach).
Pick a welcome drink from the short drinks menu (which includes this incredible low alcohol sparkling milk tea as a Champagne alternative), and let the show begin.
So the first part of dinner is in the kitchen?
Yes, four perfect, generous little snacks, each brought by a different staff member, interspersed in the middle with a trip up to the kitchen for a look into a cold chest of ultra-fancy ingredients, from which much of your dinner components will be plucked.
Your eyes will widen at bluefin tuna belly from Spain, A5 Wagyu beef from Japan, Wexford stone crab, French caviar, Wagyu ham, 46-month aged Parmesan, lemongrass, finger limes, purple radish - it's like looking into a millionaire's fridge, and suddenly you can see where your €180 is going. The snacks are heady, intoxicating, and you may find yourself silently swaying, trying to take in every last flavour bouncing around your mouth.
Ballycotton blue lobster, dill mayo, lemon cream, celeriac casing, confit tomato, dried hibiscus, horseradish / Stone crab, kolhrabi, maple syrup casing, finger lime
A5 Wagyu 'Miyasaki Prefecture', stuffed with barley koji, hazelnut, nori, yuzu kosho
Then it's into the main room?
Yes, with tables very nicely spaced apart, and a soundtrack that includes everything from The Eagles to The Rolling Stones. Another seven courses are served here, and while they may change slightly day to day depending on what produce is available, the menu has stayed by and large the same, so you should taste much of this if you do manage to visit in the next few months.
We're not going to go into the intricacies of every single dish for fear of losing you, just be assured that this is a menu full of excess, but not at the expense of flavour, full of surprise, but not at the expense of complexity, and almost every dish is finished tableside, so you get dinner and a show.
Tuna belly, Verjus, purple radish, trout roe, toasted Irish kelp
Steamed dashi, foie gras, eel, Wagyu ham, 46-month aged Vacche Rosse Parmesan (this one almost elicited a scream)
King crab, lobster, hamachi, makrut lime consommé, chive oil (there was lardo wrapped around the lobster and the scent of lemongrass was intoxicating)
The 'Petit Accord' wine pairing for the above three dishes
Miso vermouth, Jasmin caviar, rose oil, white asparagus (they are not stingy with the caviar in here)
Cooked over bincho, endives, pied de mouton, Albufera sauce (made with foie gras), smoked porcini oil, served with brioche (a dish of total excess)
The wine pairings for the above two courses
A herbal tea to refresh the palate before dessert, then a granita of ginger, lemon and lime zest
'Rice and Tea'
Rice gelato, Jasmin milk tea, rhubarb (topped with rhubarb root oil at the table, we could have eaten this five times over)
Is the wine pairing worth it?
The wine pairing is excellent, with sommelier Filip Palfi (formerly at Ballyfin) a brilliant hire. There are few people in the country with this much intrinsic wine knowledge and understanding, who can deliver the most interesting snippets of information without ever coming across as haughty or self-important. The wines were all excellently paired, but the service itself, along with fascinating tidbits of info along the way, was just as impressive.
The wine pairing for dessert - a pear cider from Eric Bordelet
What happens next?
You're taken into the 'salon' for tea, coffee, petit fours and to fawn over the digestif trolley. We were told by staff the red chairs were the most comfortable, so that's where we settled in to sip homemade herbal tea and high altitude coffee.
After that they push over the trolley laden down with Brandy, Armagnac, Japanese whiskey, and a sweet wine made from discarded Champagne grapes - that's what we had and we recommend you do too.
Then the blissful petit fours to end - a tarte Tropézienne, chestnut and honey madelines, citrus jellies, and hand-painted, 70% Venezuelan chocolates with calamansi ganache. Somehow you'll find room.
Is it stuffy?
It's a bit more hushed than say Chapter One by Mikael Viljanen, but we think that's more about staff still settling in and getting comfortable than anything else. The background soundtrack is a list of songs the young head chef loves, and spans everything from 60's rock to 80's ballads. Staff are warm and were happy to joke around, and more than one told us it's one of the most relaxed places they've worked - which in light of recent news articles is always nice to hear.
The head chef came into the salon afterwards to say hi and ask if we had enjoyed everything. He comes across as humble, a bit introverted, genuinely overwhelmed at the support they've had and the praise loaded onto their laps. It's a young team with big ambitions but they come across as genuine and spirited, and we think it's partly this that will have everyone rooting for them. There's been so much talk lately about how fine dining is on the way out, how it's had its day, but the electrifying experience this team deliver over four hours says to us that it's not going anywhere any time soon.
The mainly French serving staff have clearly been hand-picked from top fine dining restaurants in France and we imagine further afield, but have only been in Ireland a few months and we found some points in service tricky as we strained to understand the explanations of the dishes. There were quite a few awkward moments where we had to ask for a word to be repeated 6/7/8 times before it clicked, which was uncomfortable for both sides. We fed this back to the head chef at the end and he acknowledged it's an issue they are working on - it was clear we weren't the first diners to make this point.
Part of the problem is that you don't get the menu in advance, so you're fully dependent on your server to explain the components in the surprise, often complicated dishes. If you're heading there in the next few weeks we would advise having a look at the menu in advance, and familiarising yourself with the ingredients on there, so as to make the interactions more comfortable for everyone.
(This paragraph has been edited to add more context)
The only other complaint we have is that we don't live closer.
Will it get two stars when the new Michelin guide is released in March?
There's no question Terre is in two-star territory, and part of a handful of the most extraordinary dining experiences in the country, but with Michelin who knows. They're open the same amount of time as Aimsir were when they got theirs, so it's definitely possible, and only giving them one would just be wrong, when they're clearly in another category. If this all sounds up your alley we recommend planning a trip before March 27th, when tables might become that much harder to come by.
Castlemarty Resort, Castlemartyr, Co. Cork