Go down to Woods today
Restaurant Review: Woods, Roundwood, Co Wicklow Tel. 01 281 7078
A few years ago, I got quite excited about a restaurant in Rathdrum in the south of Co Wicklow. It was run by an Italian called Marino, and his partner, a Spaniard called Alvaro, and between them they brought very good food to a town where previously there had been none.
That restaurant was called Bates and it prospered, as it offered good food and reasonable prices.
It's almost a cautionary tale of the Noughties. As Bates prospered, Marino and Alvaro expanded, adding a restaurant called Woods in Roundwood, then, a little while later, they opened a third restaurant in Wicklow Town called Black and Blue. And back then, it all looked so good.
One day, as we had entered the recession, the restaurants closed down. Normally events like these wouldn't figure on my radar, but, in this case, it did.
You see, I live within the triangle that's formed by Wicklow town, Rathdrum and Roundwood, so suddenly three good restaurants within easy reach of my house were gone, making me thankful that The Wicklow Heather in Laragh was going strong.
Although Black and Blue has gone for good, the other two restaurants are reincarnated. Bates in Rathdrum was taken over by the staff, so the same chefs and floor staff are running it now, and, by all accounts, it's as good as ever.
In Roundwood, Woods has found new owners and I've been hearing good reports of it from friends.
This week, my daughter came back from Italy for a brief visit so I took the opportunity to take her to Woods to see for myself how it was faring. We got there on a cold and rainy night and, although it was mid-week, we found a well-filled and busy restaurant.
The inside of Woods is rather nicely done, with lots of dark wood and leather, giving it a kind of gentlemen's club feel. The tables are well-spaced, the lighting is pleasing and the chairs are comfortable. Isabella and I took a table by a window and we studied the menu.
It was priced in the budget range, that's to say, starters were clustered around €7 and the main courses, apart from the steaks, were well under €20.
But each course had just a bit more to it than is usually the case. For example, something as simple as chicken-liver paté came with fig jam and toasted ciabatta; the goats' cheese was wrapped in kataifi pastry and came with a mixed- leaf salad, baby pears, roasted peppers, toasted pecans and chilli jam.
Reading the menu, it seemed as though there was an extra bit of effort made for each dish. For starters, we decided on the goats' cheese for Isabella and the venison sausage salad for me. Then for main courses, the pork belly for Isabella and the rump of lamb (a daily special) for me.
The wine list is very fairly priced with plenty of wines in the €20-€30 range, and with eight available by the glass. Isabella picked a French Merlot at €6.20 a glass and it turned out to be a very generous glass; I'd guess a quarter bottle.
Good bread came to the table, quickly followed by our starters. They were not small starters. Isabella had three golden balls of crumbed and fried goats' cheese with a salad piled up between them, while I had two big venison sausages with a salad of baby potatoes, mushrooms and spring onions in the centre of the plate. Trust me, you'd need an appetite to eat here.
The goats' cheese was very well done; each ball was cooked to a perfect golden crisp with soft, unctuous cheese inside. The accompanying salad was a starter in itself, being made up of mixed leaves, pears, roasted peppers, pecans and chilli jam.
My venison sausages were delicious, made with just enough pork to make the sausages juicy, while still tasting of venison.
Our main courses arrived and they looked good on the plates. Isabella had a large piece of pork belly set on top of a chive mash, surrounded by carrot purée and glazed carrots, with a sage chutney for added flavour.
I had sliced rump of lamb cooked pink, placed on top of mash and surrounded with sliced baby potatoes and buttered spinach. I thought both of our dishes were very well done. Isabella's only complaint was that she simply couldn't finish it all.
After this we needed a small pause for digestive purposes, so that we could then have a dessert between us. We had a choice of apple crumble, chocolate brownies, pear and almond tart, fresh fruit meringue, Baileys and chocolate cheesecake and sticky toffee pudding. We picked the sticky toffee, a favourite of mine. I've tasted many variants in many restaurants and many supermarket versions, and the one we shared here was up there with the best.
This brought our bill to €63.60, which seemed like very good value. With the summer hopefully approaching and the road to Glendalough soon well trafficked with tourists, it's good to know that there's good food to be had on the way, should you take a drive there.