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06 August 2008

Cliff House, Ardmore

Most Western cooking, linguistically speaking, takes place in English, even though its antecedents are in the romance languages – French and Italian.
But English is pervasive, expected, understood, elementary – the lingua franca of contemporary cooking, the discourse of cookery books and food writing, the framework for cooking and eating, the way in which we understand the process.
But every so often, a new language suddenly appears in the world of food. Ferran Adria's Spanish cooking, for instance, isn't just Spanish, it is Catalan Spanish, and artistic Catalan Spanish at that. Adria has inspired many others in Spain to speak in their own tongues – Castilian Spanish, Basque Spanish – if we can call Basque Spanish, that is.
Away from Spain, Adria's excursions into texture, temperature, into what is expected and unexpected, has liberated others to search for their Mother Tongue. The result is a wonderfully evolving Tower of Babel, something every food lover should welcome.
If you are into a Tower of Babel approach – many voices, many dialects, new emphases – then you need to experience Martijn Kajuiter's cooking in the Cliff House Hotel, in lovely Ardmore, on Waterford's wild, forbidding and rather lovely coastline.
The hotel itself is a pearl – it clings to the cliff in a miraculous feat of engineering, and the interior style is spiffing – and inside that pearl is the pearl of Mr Kajuiter's cuisine. If the design template of the Cliff House is bold, the culinary template is bolder still.
“Local and vegetarian” is how the chef modestly describes his sourcing, and his motivation, but “Complex yet simple” might be a better description of what is going on.
Yes, there are froths and foams, but fundamentally this cooking is a series of complex results engineered from simple details – the appreciation of a spaghetti of cucumber; the placing of a fennel flower on top of a piece of black pudding; the clean berry tea under a bowl of cherries and ice cream, the superb lemony shamrock sorrel that counterpoints the sweetness of West Cork scallops, the ribbons of kale with just-cooked pigeon.
Mr Kajuiter brings a marvellous lightness of both touch and spirit to these dishes, but above all else he brings a new way of thinking and expressing food, and it makes for thrilling eating, eating that is using a new language of skill, appreciation and orthodoxy.
A word of warning: do choose the tasting menus, of six courses, as this is the best way to see the succession of ideas the kitchen proposes, at its zenith. And do ask advice from the superb sommelier as to what you should drink with the food.