JOHN AND SALLY MCKENNA'S GUIDES
No-one does chicken in a basket like Keith Boyle of the Bay Tree Bistro, Waterford
Keith Boyle is moving fast. A year ago, he was cooking up over a pub in Ballybricken, in the old heart of Waterford. Today, he has a capacious big room on the quays in Waterford, and the reputation Mr Boyle garnered in Ballybricken means the place is filled most nights of the week.
He’s a hungry chef. Hungry for ideas. Hungry for new techniques. He is alive to and obsessed with the joy of cooking, and he pulls like a dog: no effort is too much. But here’s the thing about Keith Boyle’s cooking: despite the graft, the sweat, the dedication, he’s the most playful cook you will find. He loves games, loves a laugh, loves irony.
Most cooks get serous in the face of plating up, but Keith likes a joke: when he serves you crispy chicken, he’s already rushed down to the nearby Centra to beg some of their chicken-to-go boxes. So, when your chicken arrives at The Bay Tree, it’s in a Centra chicken-to-go box.
It’s a joke, and a good one, and it’s almost as good as the chicken itself. Mr Boyle’s Centra box is like Ferran Adria’s caviar tin, which didn’t contain Beluga. The Bay Tree plays with our expectations – peach with tuna loin?; Bovril-flavoured butter?; cherries with duck?; mushroom broth that looks like a glass of Guinness?; smoked cheese Scotch egg? – and then, exceeds them.
You expect good food from such a dedicated chef, and you get good food, fashioned with a craftsman’s eye, which means that no matter how much he has taken a dish apart, the logic of the flavours are always rock solid, and Mr Boyle always foregrounds those flavours, and maxes his superb ingredients to max effect.
The marvellous thing about The Bay Tree, however, is not just what Mr Boyle has already accomplished. It’s actually the thought of what he is going to accomplish, as his food matures and as the room settles down, that is the really exciting part. He’s only just begun…
Previously located above a busy bar on Ballybricken, Keith and Carmel Boyle's highly regarded restaurant hit the ground running when they moved to spacious new premises on Waterford's quays in July 2016.
Now, with an atmospheric two-storey restaurant that provides a fit setting for Keith's impressive cooking, they should be settling in for a long run in this at this handy central location.
"Locally sourced food, cooked local, by a local chef" is the mantra that has diners flocking to Merchants Quay, along with "quality over quantity" - and, while we're at it, they have earned a reputation for great service and good value too.
With mellow brickwork, old timbers, simple table settings and photos of local landmarks, there's a pleasing combination of old and new that give this lovely premises a warmly welcoming feeling and conveys a sense of occasion.
Arriving guests are greeted by Carmel or one of her pleasant staff and, although there is an airy big seating area upstairs, with lovely stone walls, you will probably be shown straight to a table and offered a drink along with a lovely plate of fresh breads (three seed brown bread and sourdough bread, perhaps), with plain and flavoured butters and a fresh jug of iced water.
Once nicely settled in, it's worth taking time over the menus, as the choice is impressive. An early bird menu offering great choices and exceptional value is replaced at 7pm by an 'After Dark' dinner menu, which is also very keenly priced. In addition, an à la carte menu runs all evening, alongside a vegetarian menu offering an admirable four choices on each course - and there are additional lunch and children's menus too. When it comes to drinks, there's a selection of craft beers (but no non-alcoholic beer) as well as the wine list.
All menus are carefully constructed to offer a balance between house versions of crowd pleasers, such as steaks, and more adventurous dishes that allow this creative kitchen to flex its muscles - and, although there is no formal supplier list, many producers and suppliers are name checked on individual dishes.
Popular dishes that are likely to hold their ground as menus go through seasonal changes include the house “Seafood chowder” (a good variety of fish - smoked fish, salmon and prawns - and full of flavour) and starters like “mini fish & chips”, which is a must-have for first time diners: served on a lovely black plate with pea purée, a pretty little well-dressed salad, a stack of tiny shoestring chips and a lovely piece of perfectly cooked light battered fish, it's a super dish.
For mains, steak lovers will be well pleased with a sirloin steak that's cooked precisely as ordered and served with a gorgeous little mushroom and onion pie to ring the changes, and sauces on the side. Other meats might include a tasting plate of Michael Dunphy's lamb (cooked various ways) and, from the same source, pressed shoulder of pork with a tasty little pulled pork pie on the side - a very tasty dish for hearty appetites.
Fish is well represented of course - Liam Burk's fresh hake with warm salad of new potatoes, chorizo and sea herbs and red pepper coulis, for example - and supreme of chicken may be transformed by bringing it in Arthurstown Brewery's red ale and serving it with black olive risotto and charred spring onion. Lovely side dishes are another highlight - varied, perfectly cooked and piping hot - and, if the generous portions allow for dessert, people travel here especially for the mini doughnuts... Or you might just finish with a large cup of very good coffee served with two delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies.
The staff are all very pleasant and knowledgeable, which adds a lot to a meal experience that will probably have you planning your next visit before you head for home.
Waterford’s Shining New Star
Sometimes it is hard to keep up with the amount of new openings that have popped up in the last year, especially outside of Dublin. Every month we try to visit as many restaurants as we can around the country but sometimes it takes a little longer than we would like to get to some of the unsung kitchen heroes from outside the Pale. One perfect example is The Bay Tree Bistro in Waterford.
The Bay Tree Bistro’s Head Chef/Proprietor Keith Boyle was last year named Best Newcomer in Munster with his first restaurant set in a challenging location in Ballybricken. Housed above a bar and with limited resources Boyle and his wife Carmel spent a year building the business and a good reputation. So much so it afforded them the opportunity to relocate to larger premises right on the quays.
Although open over six months we had yet to experience what this new lease of life would bring to the waterfront. December is probably one of the worst months to review a restaurant, as most places are heaving with drunken Christmas parties or worse, menus so festive focused that it seems irrelevant to write about them in January. However being only an hour and forty minutes away we decided to pop down to the city’s Christmas fair “Winterval” and hoped to secure a last minute booking in The Bay Tree. Unfortunately for us their phone line was down so we couldn’t book in advance but they managed to squeeze us in last minute.
The three storey building that houses the Bay Tree Bistro has now been fully taken over by Boyle and his team, with an intimate bar on the ground floor which is ideal for pre dinner drinks and even boasts hand made crisps which Boyle prepares in house. On the first floor is the restaurant, with vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and brickwork and views overlooking the harbour, the room has a surprising elegance about it. Apart from a few licks of paint much of the space was inherited by Boyle as is and he has plans to open the top floor for local art exhibitions later in the year.
Now with a team of over 10, the Boyles were both flat out on the night we dined there, mostly with large well behaved group bookings. Even in a short space of time they have managed to create a loyal customer base and it is easy to see why. The ethos here is very much based on old school hospitality, local front of house staff with plenty of charm and excellent knowledge of the ingredients on the menu and where they come from.
We sampled some of Boyle’s homemade black olive sough dough to begin which arrived with three piped homemade butters, sun dried tomato, a black pudding infusion and a black pepper and sea salt creamy creation. Good bread may seem like a simple thing but it is one of the best barometers to the quality of any restaurant and can set the tone for the evening ahead.
A nice touch we noticed on the night was the fact they hand out little amuse bouches or winter warmers as we were told, Boyle has placed a huge emphasis that the team out front need to do the food justice and “keep the punters happy”. On a busy night when service may be slower than usual these touches give the kitchen a bit more breathing room. Ours was a superb chestnut velouté, true to its name it was velvety and rich and just what we needed after spending hours wandering around the city.
Then menu offers up five starters and six mains, with a two course setting you back €23 or three for €28, very keenly priced when you consider the provenance on the menu and the amount of in house made ingredients listed on the menu. Up first was Croquettes of House Cured & Spiced Piedmontese Beef, served with a simple red cabbage slaw and infused with a great East Coast brew, Proclamation Porter of Dunbrody House which worked beautifully with the spiciness of the beef.
Those little croquettes were no easy act to follow but our other starter of elegantly plated Sea Bream, Scallop, Glazed Pork Belly with a vivid crisped roe were an imaginative example of how to utilise the entire scallop.
Mains were a more classic affair, Roulade of Turkey and Cured Ham, with a tantalising onion and chestnut stuffing, winter squash and delicately placed sprout leaves lightly drizzled in a succulent roasting jus. For a guy with more tattoos than your average sailor, Boyle has a beautiful refinement to his cooking without compromising any of the heartiness of each dish.
We had heard that there was a talented young pastry chef in the kitchen by the name of Niamh Barry, who was in her final year in DIT but working as much as possible at weekends and evenings in the Bay Tree so dessert was a must. Warm Mulled Winter Fruits were cusped proudly in a brandy snap basket and served with a simple homemade chocolate chip ice cream. A refreshing take on a festive treat.
Across the table and enviable plate of Sticky Toffee Pudding arrived, drizzled in a white chocolate and caramel ganache and partnered with butterscotch ice cream that almost warranted licking the plate clean.
The Bay Tree Bistro is certainly an unsung hero, with Boyle’s enthusiasm and passion being more than a little infectious. If this is the barometer for Waterford’s culinary scene than the bar has seriously been raised.
Dinner for two, including a silky smooth bottle of Tres Partes Tinto Roble 100% Granache from the mountains of Navarra (€29), came to a very reasonable €85.
No. 1 Restaurant to Visit When in Waterford
The Bay Tree Bistro owned and run by husband and wife team, head chef Keith Boyle and front of house Carmel Boyle, is nothing less than out of this world. I had the pleasure of sampling their outstanding eight course tasting menu. As I think back, it reminds me of one of the best meals I have ever eaten!
The restaurant itself is quite big and Keith explained ‘I could easily fill this place selling burgers and paninis but if I was to cook that, I’d go work for someone else. Here at The Bay Tree Bistro, I’m putting my stamp on quality food!’. Don’t expect any ordinary meal here, leave that to the rest of the county. Not only will you be fed superb food, you will leave having experienced something truly magical.
For the evening our table was graced by the attentive, knowledgeable and passionate waitress, Andrea. They have achieved something special, matched to some of the best fine dining experiences in the world, yet the service is non-invasive, non-stuffy and delivered with a continuous smile and charm.
To start, it was all about crisps! Not your typical cheese and onion taytos but see through thin potato crisps dusted in India’s much loved spice blend, garam masala. I’d never tasted crisps like that before – wispy yet crisp with bold flavour, they reminded me of pakoras, India’s answer to vegetable tempura. Keith prides himself in his 350euro Japanese vegetable slicer which could slice a single potato well over two meters! It’s clear that his focus is on doing something that perhaps hasn’t been accomplished yet in Waterford.
A trio of house made bread and infused butters were up next. An inviting selection of nutty and moist flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeded brown loaf and a duo of white yeasted bread, one plain and the other marbled with black olive. They both had a slight chew and gorgeous crust. Not just one butter to slather but three equally delicious star piped expressions served on a long white piece of stone – cracked black pepper and sea salt, smoky bacon and sundried tomato. If I’m truly honest, this was one of my favorite courses. I loved trying what is usually mundane in a new and interesting way. Bread and butter not how you know it, but with an exciting Bay Tree twist.
The fancy amuse buche or ‘snacks’ as they casually call it followed suit. A mixture of boudain of chicken smoked bacon with leek, crisp pig’s nose, thyme and goat milk was succulent and melt in your mouth. The salt and chili daikon radish, scurvy grass, blue cheese with beetroot and apple puree was like nothing I had ever tasted… Crisp and moist with a nice peppery kick from the blue cheese, the purees added a beautiful sweetness and the scurvy grass added a wonderful and surprising horseradish note! Scallop roe, cauliflower puree, cod cheek and rock samphire was the final snack. Everything in that one bite complimented each other. I never thought cauliflower would go as well as it did with cod and the rock samphire allowed for a lovely freshness. The textures were phenomenal – crunch, velvet smooth and melt in your mouth succulent, all at once.
The next course was wood pigeon with wild mushroom sauce, pickled blueberries and carrots, wood sorrel, beetroot mousse and miniature rounds of apple. The mushroom sauce was velvet richness, the pigeon tender with a slight chew, the apple chunks gave a more normal sweetness while the pickled blueberries and carrots added sweetness with zing. I loved the subtle freshness the wood sorrel brought to the dish.
‘All about freshness’ was how Keith summed up the fish course. Poached sea salt butter monkfish with oiled wild alexander herbs, saffron emulsion, peas and a duo of steamed tender stem broccoli and puree. The fish was beautifully juicy, complemented classically by peas and a more innovative creamy broccoli puree. The vibrant saffron emulsion cut through the richness of the meaty monkfish while the wild alexander’s added a lovely fresh kick.
Duck pursued the fish course with backing singers of parsnip puree, BBQ pumpkin, black garlic puree and pink and black radish. It was a stunning tender piece of medium cooked duck with a lovely subtle sweetness from the silky smooth parsnip puree and chunky BBQ pumpkin. The radish added a nice peppery kick while the seventy day aged black fermented garlic added a gorgeous sweet roasted nutty like flavour. An explosion of colour on a plate, it was artistic and edible yum!
The first element of the sweet naughtiness was Keiths take on a lemon meringue pie. A crumbly pastry rectangle sat proudly underneath a good chunk of zingy set lemond curd. Topped magnificently with meringue drops, fresh raspberries, pink and white marshmallows and what looked like micro shamrocks. It was served alongside a super fresh cracked black pepper, celery, thyme and basil sorbet and rich butterscotch. Magically dusted with icing sugar, this dessert is fit for a king or queen!
To finish the evening were three petit fours, decadent and silky smooth chocolate truffle, melt in your mouth rich tablet of caramel rolled in desiccated coconut and intensely tropical mango fruit pastel, sweet and soft to the touch, it was like having a party in the tropics!
To sum up the experience in one word would be something of a challenge. Keith is creating food with soul, I felt it with every bite. His passionate endeavor to produce a marvelous food experience rather than eating for the sake of eating is truly admirable. Carmel has the front of house cared for in an informal yet attentive and friendly manner. The Bay Tree Bistro is offering a different take on food and it’s definitely worth a visit next time you’re in Waterford City.