Eating Out: Paolo Tullio at Bay Tree in Athy
'The Bay Tree delivers good, honest, wholesome food.'
I've heard it said that the last great pleasure we discover is gardening. There's no doubt that pottering around in a garden is not for the young, but as the years go by the sight of baby lettuce begins to exert a strange pull on the more, shall we say, mature among us.
This comes to mind as my son seems to be reaching the horticultural years. Last Sunday he had a plan. "Why don't you come with me to Grangecon? Diana Scarth is organising a rare plant sale. We could buy stuff," he said.
It was one of those days that nearly looked like summer, the sun peeping shyly out from behind scudding clouds every now and then. A good day for a drive to west Wicklow. We set off across the Wicklow Gap and arrived in Hollywood, where it looked as though it had been snowing. Never have I seen the hawthorns in such bloom, the hedges were almost totally white with may blossom and the road verges were white with cow parsley. As we drove towards Baltinglass we kept saying "oh, wow, look at that", as yet more vistas of flowering hawthorn opened up before us.
After filling the car with loads of rare plants, the idea of lunch implanted itself in both Rocco's and my mind. Being about half an hour from Athy, we decided to go there and see what we could find. A little research as we drove led us to the Bay Tree, a small restaurant in the centre of Athy. We found it easily enough on Stanhope Street, just around the corner from the main thoroughfare.
It had the look and smell of a bakery. The first thing to accost your nostrils is the smell of freshly made bread. There was an L-shaped dining room and an upstairs, which we didn't explore. The main lunchtime rush was over, so we got a table easily enough at the far end of the dining room.
Homemade bread and a bottle of water came to the table with the menus, which is something I like to see. It means you have something to pick on and something to drink as soon as you sit down, which instantly relaxes you.
The menu was very well priced – all the main courses, eight of them, were €12. The vegetarian pizza was €10. Steaks were listed on another part of the menu, where an 8oz sirloin steak with chips and vegetables was €19.95. Beef and lamb burgers were also €12.
There were four starters to choose from: soup of the day, which was mushroom; seafood chowder; lemon and pepper chicken bites and a chicken Caesar salad. I chose the chowder and Rocco chose the chicken bites.
The main courses were a choice of roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, a stuffed loin of pork, half a roast chicken, steak and kidney pie, chicken Masala, Cajun chicken, beef sizzler, deep-fried fillet of whiting and the vegetarian pizza. Rocco couldn't resist the roast beef and I ordered the steak and kidney pie.
The was no wine list, but there were two house wines – a Cabernet Sauvignon for the red and a Sauvignon Blanc for the white. We ordered a glass of red each and some sparkling water.
We discovered that the bread we were enjoying was gluten-free, and that most of the desserts were also. In fact The Bay Tree specialises in coeliac-friendly cooking. It's the first time I've come across a restaurant that does.
When the starters arrived, I found myself with a very good chowder filled with white fish, smoked fish and seafood. Rocco offered me a taste of his chicken and I liked the dish, little pieces of chicken in a very good batter, served with a small pot of garlic dip, which was very well done.
It's a rule – the farther you get from Dublin, the bigger the portions get. When our main courses came they confirmed this rule. Rocco had a large, thick slice of medium rare beef sitting on top of mashed potato, and alongside he had roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. The root vegetables came separately in a small dish, one for each of us.
I had an individual steak and kidney pie, plus mashed potato and roast potatoes, and of course my dish of vegetables. Neither Rocco nor I were able to clear our plates, carefully leaving just enough appetite to sample the coeliac-friendly desserts.
After a little discussion we decided on the 'death by chocolate' between us, with the addition of some ice-cream. This was a very well made dessert, using decent chocolate. What I learned from it was that the kitchen here is very good with pastry, bread and cakes.
We finished up as usual with a couple of espressos, which brought the bill to €57.20. For three courses with wine, water and coffees, that's great value.
The Bay Tree delivers good, honest, wholesome food and if you're unlucky enough to be gluten intolerant you might want to make a note of it, especially if you're planning a trip to the Curragh this weekend.
9/10 value for money
The Bay Tree, 4 Stanhope Street, Athy, Co Kildare Tel: 059 864 1819