I am always on the hunt for new restaurants to try out. Often the collective focus of reviewers is on the big city openings, but there are also many other great places to try scattered all around the country which deserve to be equally celebrated for the quality of the cooking and the food they offer. Upstairs at Wood & Bell is one of those restaurants.
The restaurant opened in the beautiful east County Clare town of Killaloe overlooking Lough Derg just before Christmas in December 2017 and, in the few months that is has been open, has quickly established itself as a firm favourite with both locals and visitors to the town alike.
Upstairs at Wood & Bell is the brainchild of former Irish rugby international and Killaloe native Keith Wood, and his business partner Malcolm Bell. They first discussed the idea of opening their own restaurant over dinner in Chicago on the eve of Ireland’s historic win over the All Blacks in 2016.
During his rugby career, Keith had the opportunity to travel widely and eat in many top restaurants – and he dreamt about one day opening his own place in his hometown.
During the day Wood & Bell houses a popular wine bar and café and in the evening, the fine-dining ‘Upstairs’ serves French-inspired (with an Irish Twist) food in a large, airy and tastefully decorated dining room.
The kitchen is headed up by Executive Chef Paddy Collins who has developed a menu with locally-sourced ingredients at the fore. All the herbs and most of the fruit and vegetables that are used are grown from the restaurant’s own gardens, which are managed by Keith’s wife Nicola Wood.
Dishes on the menu are keenly priced with options to suit even the fussiest diner. We made our choices and after feasting on a selection of homemade Breads which included Tomato & Basil and an excellent Treacle Brown Soda served with some herb-topped butter, we enjoyed an delicious amuse bouche of Cured Salmon which set the taste-buds tingling in anticipation of the rest of our meal.
My starter of Haddock, Smoke, Cured Egg Yolk, Spinach & Watercress Velouté was a beautifully presented dish which was presented under a glass cloche filled with smoke, the theatricality of which made us giggle with delight.
More importantly the smokiness that this imparted to the precisely-cooked pearlescent fish was just perfect and the underlying peppery taste of the velouté married perfectly with the clean flavours of the fish. Wisps of finely grated cured egg yolk added richness to this well-conceived dish.
My guest’s Sous-Vide Pork Belly, Seared Langoustine, Tenderstem Broccoli, Langoustine Oil was a surprisingly delicate dish and a nice play on the ‘surf ‘n’ turf’ theme where the inherent sweetness of the shellfish perfectly complimented the soft and yielding pork belly meat.
Tenderstem broccoli retained some crunch and provided textural contrast. We were off to a good start!
Our main courses were also fantastic. The description of the Apple Glazed Pork Chop, Apple Textures, Whole-Grain Mustard Pickle, Thyme Stuffing Croquette on the menu was hard to resist, so I immediately plumped for that and I was not disappointed.
Initially, I was a little worried that this autumnal sounding dish might be too much given the gloriously hot weather outside but I enjoyed every bite of it. In fact, the apple in its various form (including lightly pickled and compressed) added a nice freshness that went very well with the extremely tender pork. It was evident that this was the work of a confident chef with a real flair for balancing flavours and textures.
Across the table the Torched and Salted Cod, Sauce Vierge, Puy Lentils, Lemon Butter was also going down a treat. The cod had been cooked perfectly and came away in large flakes when gently prodded with a fork.
The fish was paired with a flavoursome sauce vierge made with tomato concasse and soft herbs whilst the lemon butter added a zingy quality that brought the dish together. Both main courses were served with potatoes and seasonal vegetables including buttered carrots and roast parsnips.
Anyone who knows me can confirm that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Luckily, the desserts in Upstairs at Wood & Bell continued the high standards set during the rest of the meal. I loved the Poached Wood Garden Rhubarb, Cream, Meringue.
This was plated in a modern style with meringue ‘shards’, artistically positioned bobs of intensely flavoured fruit gels and purees. The poached rhubarb had been cooked so that it held its shape and retained some bite whilst the meringue dissolved on the tongue in an extremely pleasurable way. This was a simple dessert and wonderful because of it.
My guest’s Dark Chocolate Pavé, Salted Caramel and Raspberry Mille Feuille was a more technically challenging dessert, but again every element had been executed perfectly to create an indulgent dessert where crisp puff pastry combined with fresh fruit, fantastic homemade honeycomb and a ‘to die for’ salted caramel sauce to produce a memorable plate of food.
Along with a large bottle of sparkling water and two glasses of wine, the cost of our meal came to €99 before gratuity, which I feel represented phenomenal value for money considering the quality of the food that we had eaten. Upstairs at Wood & Bell is a restaurant that has a real ‘hidden gem’ feel about it, but I don’t think that it is going to remain this way for much longer as word spreads.
Real thought has gone into each plate of food and full use made of the excellent produce that is available locally, much of which comes from the restaurant’s own gardens. Judging by the food that we ate, Paddy Collins is a chef at the top of his game. Service throughout our meal was excellent.
Upstairs at Wood & Bell
REVIEW BY NIAMH MANNION