There is a peculiar kind of Irish cold. It’s a soaked-through-four-layers cold, the kind you experience wandering around the Rock of Cashel in a frigid, driving rain.
From the moment we stepped into Chez Hans, however, we began to defrost, clinging to the warmth of a wood-fired stove. The dark panelling, carpeted floor and mahogany furniture lend the anteroom a seventies vibe, unsurprising given that Hans and Derry Matthiae first opened the restaurant in 1968.
The dining room is equally welcoming, and impressive. The converted Protestant Synod Hall retains its 19th century religious origins: an A-frame ceiling overlooks diamond-paned windows while chandeliers illuminate gilt-framed art.
The menu offers three courses for €33, but our curious tastes led us straight into supplement territory. Five euro was well spent on my companion’s Dingle crab and smoked salmon salad; a creative arrangement of fresh fish, cut through with brined capers and pickled, delicately-shaved vegetables. In a nod to tradition, it was served with a tangy Marie Rose sauce.
Still shivering, I opted for a warmer dish: the pulled pork and wild mushroom ravioli proved as comforting as a warm bath. The pasta was firm and scalloped, the filling rich and hearty. It was a veritable flavour bomb, cleverly enhanced by crunchy almonds and heady crisped sage.
Overhearing a diner’s delight, I asked, Carry-On style, if I could have what she was having. The Caesar salad that arrived (€4) entailed a sturdy wedge of lettuce, tendrils of Parmesan, artfully-whipped dressing and a dusting of salty bacon. My neighbour was right; it was sublime.
Staying with the Kingdom, my opposite number chose Dingle scallops as his main. Risotto nero glistened like black pearls beneath plump, golden shellfish, while a velvety bisque wound its way around the decorated plate. Caramelised cauliflower lent a whimsical sweetness to this dramatic dish (€8 supplement).
The sumptuous aesthetic continued with my superb chargrilled herb-crusted lamb fillets – served perfectly rare - alongside braised lamb shoulder and a verdant pool of puréed peas, anchored by sprouting broccoli and creamy ricotta agnolotti (€10). It was delivered with a delightfully quaint tureen of fluffy boiled potatoes, tossed in a fresh herb butter.
We gladly took our server’s advice with regard to wine, as he evidently knew his restaurant inside-out. The Elias Mora Semi Crianza (€29) proved his skill, as it was indeed a delicately-spiced red, full-bodied and yet fruity, perfect for that wet and windy night.
We had embarked on a set menu, and so found ourselves struggling with two desserts: my New York cheesecake with rhubarb ice cream was seasonal, fresh, and reassuringly local, despite its exotic title. My companion somehow managed a generous selection of Irish cheeses, served with jellied quince (€6).
Having spent the day wading through centuries of history, it was a joy to experience skilled, old-school Irish cooking, invigorated with international ingredients and modern flourishes. Like the Rock itself, Chez Hans has weathered significant changes in Ireland, and will undoubtedly witness many more.
We loved the old-fashioned elegance, historic setting, and well-executed dishes
We spent €128 on two three-course-specials, plus supplements, a side and wine
Moore Lane, Cashel Co. Tipperary Tel: +353(62)61177 www.chezhans.net