John Kelly is a man on a mission. After retaining a Michelin star at Lady Helen at Mount Juliet Estate in Kilkenny this year – first awarded in 2014 when his predecessor Cormac Rowe was chef de cuisine – Kelly is fighting for a second star.
I have eaten at Lady Helen many times over the years – from back then, when there was still good country cuisine and culinary ambitions were beginning to increase. I remember being invited to a dinner prepared by the late great French chef Albert Roux, which included the Queen Mother’s favorite soufflé. roux gave us a night to remember, and so did John Kelly on my last visit.
Mount Juliet is one of mine favorite places. Despite being a hotel, it still has a very personal feel with wonderful staff, some of whom have been there for years. There is a graceful elegance here that has not been lost since it was the home of the Earls of Carrick and later occupied by the flamboyant Major Victor McCalmont and his wife Bunty, who were figures of note on the Irish social scene.
Now part of the Marriott Autograph Collection of hotels, an impressive new leisure space has been added, along with a club-style bar and a superb, upscale adult cinema.
After enjoying a piaff champagne cocktail with raspberry and chambord (€19.50) while my friend Mary enjoyed a non-alcoholic pomegranate nojito (€6.50) while sitting overlooking the Nore River, we left We then settle into the elegant surroundings of the beautiful Lady Helen room.
Tasting menus are the order of the day here, with a 7-course menu for €110pp or a 9-course menu for €130pp; In my opinion both are good value for money. Wine pairings (which we didn’t have) are available for both menus – €52pp and €72pp respectively.
Aware that tasting menus these days tend to be accompanied by an amuse bouche or some hipster snacks, we’ve opted for seven courses; Our choice was also influenced by the fact that the dishes on this menu also seemed a bit lighter.
The amuse bouche arrived on time: two feather-light mini-bags filled with smoked mackerel, horseradish and lemon puree, and delicious Blue cheese and parsley gougères (baked savory choux pastry) generously topped with truffles.
“You have to hit people with good, bold taste to begin with,” Kelly told us afterwards, and he succeeded with a divine Jerusalem artichoke custard with spicy pickled mushrooms, hazelnut and chervil.
With palates more than amused, our first course per se was a stunning seared scallop in a sublime chive beurre blanc with seaweed and lime. It followed Wild sea bass with carrot, purple artichoke and rockfish sauce.
Mary’s “entree” of organic Tipperary veal cooked pink with asparagus, morels and wild garlic was fabulous. They kindly allowed me to have West Coast turbot with celeriac, lovage, pickled gooseberries and chicken jus from the nine course meal so we could try both dishes.
Bittersweet forced rhubarb Mousse with sour cream and bee pollen gently brought us to the dessert end of the menu, which was a gorgeous passion fruit ring, hazelnut and chocolate sorbet, followed by some delicious petits fours. These included a cranberry macaroon; bergamot tart; and pistachios and white chocolate.
As you would expect, there is an extensive wine cellar with prices ranging from €40 all the way up to €699 for the Château Lynch-Bages Grand Cru Classe Pauillac 2000. There was so much choice that I raved about it and probably the helpful sommelier in the It was maddening, but then I discovered a dry, lemony, biodynamic Dominique Belluard Les Alpes 2019 (€69) organic wine from the Savoie region of France that proved to be the perfect choice. Made from the gringet grape grown in rocks in the foothills of Mont Blanc, it’s a cracker and a wine I’ll be on the lookout for again.
The Lady Helen is undoubtedly there two star level. All it needs is for the pesky Michelin people to give it the imprimatur!
lady helen restaurant,
Mount Julia Estate,
Tel: (056) 777-3000
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-reviews/lucinda-osullivans-restaurant-review-mount-juliets-lady-helen-is-undoubtedly-at-the-two-michelin-star-level-41449661.html Restaurant review by Lucinda O’Sullivan: “Mount Juliet’s Lady Helen is undoubtedly on par with two Michelin stars”