Let’s state the obvious from the outset, Dublin is a fertile hunting ground for a great dinner. I’m always delighted to discover new gems close to home, but it feels all the more rewarding when you unearth something wonderful outside of your own neck of the woods.
Off the beaten track but probably not far enough to be considered a mammoth trek, I had heard whispers of good things happening at The Brown Bear restaurant in Two Mile House, nestled in a cosy village between Kilcullen, Naas and Newbridge.
A relative newcomer which is listed in the Michelin Guide, The Brown Bear’s homely interior, all dark wood and candlelight, immediately makes us think “gastropub”, with all the anxiety that accompanies the dreaded term.
We arrived hungrier than grizzly bears and almost as grumpy, hoping the best parts of the gastropub moniker – well-priced, comforting dishes executed well – would make our journey a fruitful one.
This optimism felt well founded as soon as the bread basket of dreams arrived before us, freshly baked and filling the air with that most enticing of aromas. The star of the show, a savoury Cinnabon of sorts, was golden brown with luscious Bechamel spilling out of the centre, crowned with crisp streaky bacon.
“Bread is comfort and nostalgia, something fresh out of the oven” says Jean, the hands-on proprietress, as we nod along in tandem – there is no denying the power of the baked beauties at The Brown Bear, served with Gleniln Butter, an immediate mood enhancer. Ahead of a hibernation, I would squirrel these away for provisions and be a happy bear indeed.
A short but ambitious menu saw temptations like Foie Gras with Eel and Apple (Greenhouse-esque and alluring) sit alongside more classic creations like Beetroot and Goats Cheese. A pleasant surprise was a veggie starter which actually felt well conceived and far from boring, my usual bug bear with vegetarian options – Sprouting Broccoli and Walnut (€8).
The green spears of childhood nightmares, here from the lauded Ballymakenny Farm, retained their crunch and vibrancy and were happy bedfellows with crunchy nuggets of Boyne Valley blue cheese and lightly pickled red grapes to cut through the richness. I can’t imagine any vegetarian being dissatisfied with this simple yet delightfully different starter.
Heartier but even more delicately plated, across the table sat a classic Scallop and Black Pudding (€14)starter, three plump and perfectly cooked beauties with a delectable panko coated bon bon of pudding, providing both texture and robust flavour. Tying it all together, a burnt apple puree mirrored the buttery caramelisation of the scallops and lightened up the rich pudding – a stellar scallop starter indeed.
From a selection of six main courses we opted for one light and one meaty, kicking off with the only seafood option of Cod, Cauliflower, Prawns and Bisque(€25).
Plated perfectly, this easy on the eye dish had personality to back up its good looks, with well-pitched saffron spiked bisque foam adding depth to the crisp-skinned and succulent cod fillet. Seasoned with deliciously salty samphire and dollops of earthy celeriac purée, this was solid cooking and made for a thoroughly enjoyable main course.
Bringing a comforting Autumnal vibe to the menu, Duck Breast, (€26) from award-winning Cavan based Thornhill farm, was blushingly tender with pleasingly crisp rendered skin. A classic accompaniment to gamey duck, sweet red cabbage is always a winning addition, and worked beautifully here with salt-baked rainbow root vegetables and a not-too-cloyingly sweet carrot pureé. I’d come back to Kildare for this dish.
Although our appetites had been more than satiated towards the end of our dinner, spotting Chocolate Fondant (€8)on the dessert menu meant stretching our limits was absolutely necessary. It would be fine, we convinced ourselves, as we would have the 15 minute break in our gluttony while it baked.
Not unlike the ridiculously tempting bread basket, what arrived before us was essentially irresistible and doomed to be decimated, ticking all the boxes on the ooze front and taken over the edge with boldy saline golden salted caramel ice cream and sticky hazelnut praline sauce. The Cure’s Friday I’m in Love seemed like an appropriate serenade to this most delectable of desserts, the soundtrack competing with the scraping of our spoons to scoop up every last bite.
Making shapes towards the N7, we agreed that The Brown Bear had been more than worth the detour off the beaten track – each and every dish proved that the team here are going the extra mile, and the hospitality afforded to every guest proved this extended beyond the kitchen to make for an meal which exceeded our expectations completely.
If you’re headed to Punchestown, the Curragh or Kildare Village…I’m pretty sure you’ll thank me for the advice: skip that and go to The Brown Bear instead. Our bill, for two starters, two mains, a shared dessert and two glasses of wine came to €96.
The Brown Bear
Two Mile House
T:+353 45 883561
REVIEW BY DARINA COFFEY