Tabletalk: Bear necessity
An enthusiastic gastropub menu gets her juices running as Lucinda O'Sullivan hunts out a top chef in a casual setting in Co Kildare
It was a busy, warm Friday evening setting off for The Brown Bear at Two Mile House, south of Naas, and so, to avoid the M7, we travelled the 'old road', passing the lakes of Blessington, through Dunlavin village and its affluent-looking stud farms. As to finding Two Mile House itself, it was like Brigadoon -- no signposts -- and if we hadn't the sat-nav we would be driving still.
The Brown Bear is a modern-build country pub, with a traditional decor, lots of dark wood, and lovely artwork of mountainy sheep by Eleanor Swan. "Irish ingredients given a wallop of French cooking style . . . at gastropub prices" is the pub's own description, and it certainly is no bog-standard, sausage-and-mash gastropub fare, but serious food from a serious French chef.
Fred Cordonnier, formerly of Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud and the Tea Room, has come together with pub proprietor Eugene Brennan to create the restaurant.
A three-course seasonal menu, €28, offered two starters and two mains, including asparagus soup, fish and chips and blanquette de veau, but we felt it better to test the more complex dishes on offer on the main menu. The little touches were good as we kicked off with splendid warm breads -- black olive, walnut and raisin and "fanned ribbons" of elegant semolina bread -- while two cubes of butter sat on an old-fashioned butter pat.
Starters were €7.50-€12.50. Brendan had a generous brace of ravioli (€9.50), enfolding rich, braised beef shank and foie gras topped with sweet-tasting sheafs of wild asparagus, with intense oven-dried tomatoes and fresh, green nasturtium leaves. A rich and luxurious combination, it was lightened by the asparagus and a well-flavoured tomato consomme sprinkled with parsley.
My delightful slice of ham and parsley jelly (€7.50) -- a staple in France as jambon persillee, a Burgundian speciality -- was made from the restaurant's own hand-reared, free-range saddleback pigs. The presentation encompassed a riotous summer garden of green peas and pods, pea shoots and pea sorbet, and sunny-coloured, halved quail's eggs.
Mains (€17-€27) included pan-fried salt-marsh duck breast with beetroot puree, fresh almonds, sweet and sour cherries, and creamed barley. A 10oz rib-eye had a croquette of oxtail and foie gras, girolle mushrooms, and red-wine jus. These lush, varying elements within each dish made the food really interesting. Perfectly pink, sweet-tasting rump of lamb (€22) was a picture, sliced and lying on a feuillete of goat's cheese, itself atop a ragout of peas, chopped crispy sweetbreads, tongue, and black olives. New potatoes (€3), sprinkled with sea salt, butter and parsley were everything that new potatoes are supposed to be.
Brendan had pan-fried ray wing (€22) on a fennel and black olive salad with confit lemon, fennel and lemongrass gazpacho. He also had a side order of superb fries (€3).
Chocolate fondant, creme brulee, and peach melba tempted, but we shared a scrumptious, summery sable-based concoction of strawberry ice cream, fresh strawberries, and strips of confit lemon (€6.50).
The wine list is in a format that I would like to see more widely used. There are 250ml and 500ml carafes available for a number of wines, as well as lots by the glass.
We had a 500ml carafe -- two-thirds of a bottle -- of Crianza Tinto Bodegas La Emperatriz Rioja Alta 2004 at €21.40 (€32 per bottle). Our bill, with optional service and two Cokes (€5.20), was €111.40.
There was a real joie de vivre about the food and it is no wonder that since my visit The Brown Bear has won the Best Newcomer Award in the RAI/Life Magazine Irish Restaurant Awards 2010.
A great gastropub for those who want a cut above.
The Brown Bear,
Two Mile House,
Tel: (045) 883-561