Paolo Tullio: Sunday lunch with a view
Restaurant Review: The Woodlands Restaurant, The Glenview Hotel, Glen of the Downs, Wicklow 01 2873399
I realised this week that I've been very selfish. Not in general, but in particular. You see, when my children were small and had to be taken with us to restaurants, I used to look out for child-friendly restaurants. I'd also go looking for restaurants that did Sunday lunches, where I could take the little dears, and then I'd review them.
But now that my children have left home, I've stopped looking for child-friendly restaurants and places where I could take them on Sundays. That's what I mean by selfish. I should have considered that other people might want to know where they could take their own little darlings.
So this week, I went back to a restaurant that I haven't reviewed since 2002 – the Woodlands Restaurant in the Glenview Hotel, which is definitely child-friendly.
If you've ever driven southwards from Dublin on the N11, you'll have come to the Glen of the Downs, a very picturesque part of Wicklow. The Glenview Hotel has exactly what its name implies: it has a fine view of the glen, and the Woodlands dining room makes full use of the view. It's on the first floor and one wall is almost entirely glass, giving you a fine panorama of the glen and the N11 running through it.
I arrived there with Marian the Blonde, and we'd arranged to meet her daughter Gemma and her fiancé, Gavin Cullen, there. They'd come from Cabinteely and were there before us. "It's only 15 minutes from Cabinteely," said Gavin.
Oh, the joys of our new roads.
We made our way upstairs to the Woodlands dining room, which is large, spacious and airy. There's plenty of space between the tables, they're set with starched linen, and the tables are surrounded with amazingly comfortable armchairs. It made me quite nostalgic, because the layout, the big tables and chairs, the starched linen and the many people serving reminded me of grand hotel dining rooms of times past. Even the menu, which came in a large card folder, seemed to be of another era, when things were less casual.
The Sunday lunch menu is a set menu, priced at €27.50 for three courses. It's a well-designed menu, in the sense that it won't frighten the very young or the very old. The dishes that are listed are recognisable, some are classic, and there are no bizarre foams, strange ingredients or funny foreign words. It's a menu to put the less adventurous at ease.
I started with the wine list and was pleasantly surprised to see that it didn't carry the usual hotel mark-up. For some reason that I've yet to discover, hotels often take a hefty margin on wine, more so than restaurants do, but here the mark-up was, if anything, slightly less than normal. We ordered a bottle of Sancerre and a half-bottle of Chilean Merlot.
We all ordered different dishes, so four starters arrived: Glen of the Downs goat's cheese in a coriander crumb, a tossed Caesar salad, a tian of Dunany crab meat with mixed seafood, and a fish cake with Asian slaw.
Because we were sitting in classic hotel-style comfort, I was expecting classic hotel-style presentation of our dishes. Instead, what arrived were four starters presented in a very modern, restaurant-style way. The goat's cheese came in three rounds, coated in a vivid green coriander crumb, while the crab meat was a good mix of crab and shellfish and came with lumpfish roe and cucumber spaghetti. Gemma enjoyed her Caesar salad, her only comment was that the promised garlic croutons were missing.
I'd picked the fish cake, as so often it's a disappointing dish. That means it's a good test for the kitchen, and this time there was no disappointment. It was cooked to a golden colour and the mix of smoked and fresh fish was just right. The mango and chilli dressing that came with it added that extra boost of flavour.
The mains we'd ordered were roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast leg of lamb, Moroccan spiced chicken breast, and traditional corned beef. The roast beef and the roast lamb were exactly as you'd expect for a Sunday lunch, properly cooked and nicely presented. The chicken breast was the unusual dish, spiced with cumin and served with couscous and with a cucumber yogurt – all the tastes of North Africa.
I'd picked the corned beef because I wanted something traditional. And that's exactly what I got: the sliced beef served with buttered cabbage, with a well-made parsley sauce on top.
Like the other courses, the desserts were all classics: a baked wild-berry cheesecake, an Eton mess, a vanilla creme brulee, and bread and butter pudding. Of the five listed, the only one we didn't order was the chocolate brownie. And, like the other courses, the desserts were well done, especially the bread and butter pudding. Only the creme brulee wasn't quite right – beneath the crust, it was still very liquid and unset.
What you get in the Woodlands Restaurant is comfort, good service, well-made food and a fine view. There's good value to be had on both the menu and the wine list.
If there's a downside to this, it's a slightly old-fashioned feel to the dining experience. Mind you, for some people that could be a plus factor. What I liked was the honesty of it: you get exactly what the menu promises.
Our bill came to €181.50.
On a budget
Apart from the Woodlands Restaurant, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays, the Glenview also has the Conservatory Bistro, where there's an all-day bar menu and a carvery lunch.
On a blowout
The a la carte menu for the Woodlands is very reasonably priced, with starters around €7 and main courses all less than €20. The most expensive dish on the menu is slow-roasted shoulder of lamb at €18.50.
The presentation of the dishes.
The creme brulee.