Dining in The Strawberry Tree at Brook Lodge in Macreddin Village is a unique dining experience and one that I will remember for a long time. As Ireland’s only certified organic restaurant, the menu only includes organic or wild ingredients and their provenance is proudly displayed throughout the menu which is opportunistic in its use of ingredients, drawing on what is in season and locally available or can be foraged nearby. This results in food that is unusual, playful and thought-provoking on many levels.
Due to the availability of ingredients, the menu changes regularly and is constantly evolving but this, along with the some top-notch cooking under Head Chef James Kavanagh, is what makes the food so exciting to eat. I was really looking forward to dining there.
The dining room is spacious and decorated in rich dark colours which are surprisingly soothing. A dark mirrored ceiling makes the room feel even larger but despite this, the overall atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. There are two menus – an à la carte evening menu and a 9-course tasting menu which I decided to go for.
A selection of Warm Breads was first to arrive and came swaddled in a linen napkin to preserve their heat. Brook Lodge is renowned for its brown soda bread and it isn’t hard to see why as it was wonderful. Bread rolls were flavoured with cheese and a wild garlic pesto and were also delicious, especially when liberally spread with soft, salty butter.
An Irish Orchard Kir Royale made from single reserve cider using Dabinette apples and homemade blackcurrant liqueur opened proceedings and was a perfect way to kick off the meal. The slightly effervescent but mildly flavoured cider was a nice alternative to the more commonly used sparkling white wine or Champagne and resulted in a drink that was very Irish.
Next up was the intriguingly entitled Ireland’s Youngest Cheese. Here soft curds which had been made only 90 minutes beforehand were served with an oat-flake tuile and dressed with a drizzle of rapeseed oil and nasturtium leaves. I was completely smitten by the simplicity of this dish and loved the contrast of the crisp tuile against the soft cheese which possessed a subtle sweet flavour.
Similarly, the Kale Nero Laverbread with Crispy Duck’s Yolk was simple in concept but used ingredients in innovative ways. Laverbread is a traditional Welsh delicacy which is made using seaweed. It is often served as a thick purée and is considered an acquired taste. Here black kale was substituted for the seaweed and it was made to a firmer consistency than would be the norm. This contrasted wonderfully with the crispy duck’s yolk with its runny centre. The egg yolk had been gently pre-cooked and was then lightly covered in breadcrumbs before being deep-fried. As you cut into the yolk, it oozed out creating a lovely rich sauce. A piquant hollandaise, served to cut through the richness of the overall dish, finished everything off perfectly.
I am a huge fan of wood pigeon so was delighted to see Seared Wild Wood Pigeon, Pearl Barley, Burnt Katy Apple Purée on the menu. This was a wonderful autumnal dish where the pigeon had been flawlessly cooked. The accompanying ‘ragout’ of pearl-barley and apple purée was deliciously rich and satisfying to eat. This was followed up by a creamy Smoked Potato Soup, Poitín, Bacon Foam. I particularly liked the inclusion of poitín which accentuated and highlighted the potato flavour but didn’t overpower the dish.
The meal then changed direction with the arrival of a Rhubarb Sorbet. However, this was more than a mere palate cleanser as the rhubarb was presented three ways – as a fiery compote flavoured with chilli; as a refreshing sorbet and finally, as a soothing drink. Our waitress advised that this was the order in which each should be consumed and we obediently followed her instructions. It was like taking my palate on an adventure where it was awakened and stimulated but where the flavours of rhubarb still managed to shine through. I loved it and felt ready to continue with the rest of my meal.
35 day Aged seared Beef Sirloin, Slow Cooked Shin, Celeriac Purée, Glazed Shallot, Full Bone Gravy was a mouth-watering dish which showcased the quality of the beef that had been used. The sirloin was melt-in-the-mouth tender but the true stars of the dish were the shin of beef croquette with its robustly flavoured soft meat and the outstanding bone gravy which was unlike any gravy that I have ever tasted before. A generous portion of extra gravy was served in a jug and I am a little embarrassed to admit that I finished off every drop!
An Orchard Fruit Soda was lovely after the rich and unctuous beef and came humorously presented in a small bottle with its own straw on a bed of real grass in a mini-apple crate. I loved the fun of this and enjoyed the Alice in Wonderland feel of the dish.
A stunning Blackcurrant Panna Cotta & Pickled Pears was the final dish of the Tasting Menu. The panna cotta was perfectly set and with its silky texture and intense blackcurrant flavour was heavenly to eat. Thankfully it had not been over-sweetened so the fruit flavours were not dulled in any way and worked wonderfully against the pickled pears and shortbread crumb that accompanied it. I couldn’t fault anything on the plate and can still vividly remember every spoonful.
After finishing my meal my waiter asked whether I would like to take a look at the walk-in Wild Foods Pantry which adjoins the dining room. I jumped at the chance and was highly impressed with the great selection of cheeses, charcuterie and preserved goods contained therein.
At €75 per person, the tasting menu isn’t cheap, but for the quality of the food and the journey you are taken on during your meal, I think that it is well worth every cent. A couple of glasses of house red washed everything down and added to my enjoyment of the meal.
The Strawberry Tree at the Brook Lodge & Wells Spa
Tel: 0402 36444
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.