Restaurant review: 'Ambitious new restaurant has Michelin Guide aspirations'
Aimsir, Cliff at Lyons, Lyons Road, Celbridge, Co Kildare. aimsir.ie
I know how much some of you enjoy the odd evisceration but I'd really much prefer to tell you about good restaurants rather than the ones that are actively poor.
Which brings me - and hopefully you also - to Aimsir, a new restaurant at Cliff at Lyons, part of Barry O'Callaghan's Cliff Group, which includes the Cliff House Hotel at Ardmore and Cliff Townhouse in Dublin. The Lyons Estate was owned by the late Tony Ryan, and the restoration of the chocolate box mill village was a labour of love for the aviation tycoon. Various chefs, including Clodagh McKenna and Richard Corrigan, have been involved over the years and Nathan Dimond is the chef at The Orangery, also located here.
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But Aimsir is something new and as important an opening as we have yet seen in Ireland.
Chef Jordan Bailey and restaurant manager Majken Bech-Bailey (they are married and in their twenties; he's from Cornwall and she's Danish) arrived in Ireland last year, both with CVs as glittering as they come in the world of high-end restaurants. (They met when working at the three-star Maaemo in Oslo, where Jordan was head chef.)
The couple took ownership of Aimsir - supervising the build of a new restaurant on the site of the former cookery school, and developing relationships with suppliers and craftspeople all over the country from the outset. The restaurant has the Scandi looks, all-island sourcing policy and dedication to foraging that one might expect given the pedigree and location of the establishments in which the pair have cut their teeth. But even though this is an undoubtedly serious restaurant, it is also a joyous one.
In a bar that overlooks the concentrically-planted orchard, we have cocktails - Bitter Sweet Beginnings and Caught in the Rain - that are as carefully considered as everything that follows.
Majken leads us past fridges of dry-aging chickens and shelves laden with a year's worth of pickles and preserves into a spare, dark dining room with the kitchen behind a glass wall at the end.
The tasting menu comprises 18 exquisite, intricate courses, the progression elegant and assured. And despite the mind-boggling litany of ingredients and techniques, there is no extraneous element in any one of those plates - every single thing is there for a reason. Highlights for me were the opener of violetta potato from Ballymakenny farm, with Boyne Valley Bán, pickled Drummond House black garlic and Irish summer truffle, a savoury flavour bomb, the luscious Flaggy Shore oyster poached in roasted koji butter and Highbank Orchard apple balsamic and soda bread cooked in beef fat served with celestial butter made from Crawford's raw milk, but there is not a dud dish amongst the 18. And Cathryn Steunenberg's wine pairings are brilliant, her enthusiasm and lack of pretension an absolute joy, her knowledge worn lightly.
The chefs at work behind the glass wall of the kitchen are a visual essay in concentration and focus; the image puts me in mind of The Anatomy Lesson. In the modern way, this is food that could not be prepared without tweezers and meticulous attention to detail, but it also could not be prepared without soul, a commitment to beauty and a deep understanding of flavour and texture.
These are fine people, this is an excellent restaurant and the experience is one that I urge you to have for yourself.
The bill for two for the tasting menu with matching wines, plus the two cocktails at the beginning, comes to €436 before service. Yes, this is a substantial sum, yet it represents excellent value both intrinsically and when compared to restaurants pitched at a similar level, whether in Ireland or elsewhere. And, come the autumn, if the Michelin folk do what the chattering classes of the food world are willing them to, and award Aimsir not just a single star but two, the prices are likely to go up. Don't say I didn't warn you.
ON A BUDGET
The tasting menu costs €105 per person.
ON A BLOW OUT
The tasting menu with wine pairings will set you back €400 for two before service. If you opt for the non-alcoholic pairing, it'll be €290.
THE HIGH POINT
The serious ambition at Aimsir is realised without pretension.
THE LOW POINT
Aimsir is a destination, so in order to enjoy the full experience you'll need to factor in a taxi or an overnight stay.