Kildare: Bearing cosy cuisine

The Brown Bear, Two Mile House, Co Kildare; Tel: 045-883561; thebrownbear.ie

SO WINTER is coming, and with it a whole new clutch of cravings. Driving through Kildare towards the village of Two Mile House only stokes them further.

Trees are shedding the last of their leaves, roadside puddles are mulchy, and a low sky hems us in like an egg box.

It’s Sundays like these that cosy gastro-pubs were made for. And there’s no better place than The Thoroughbred County for them — think of The Ballymore Inn in Ballymore Eustace, or Fallon’s of Kilcullen, both with glowing fireplaces at their hearts and local produce lovingly presented in rooms you’d happily slink into for an afternoon.

The Brown Bear is another of Kildare’s winter-warmers — an elegant bar and restaurant run by Eugene and Jean Brennan, with Josef Zammit heading up the kitchen. From the outside, it looks like a big, sprawling roadside joint, with dormer windows, crisp tarmac and half the building unoccupied.

All is shipshape and slick within, of course, but it’s hard not to get the sense of Celtic Tiger ambitions, and new realities.

We’re here for a family lunch. And we’re not the only ones — stepping into the dining room, we’re greeted by a warm blast of air, and the sight of several families and couples of various vintages whiling away the afternoon.

It’s an enticing space — dark wood, twinkling glassware, pearly lights and velvety banquettes combine to make you feel dozily at-ease. By night, Zammit serves up a la carte and early-bird options. Our Sunday lunch, however, is charged at two courses for €22 and three for €27. Sides are extra.

Shortly after ordering, we’re brought iced water and a generous selection of fresh breads in tidy baskets, with rolled butter and dashes of oil and balsamic. There’s also a healthy selection of wines by the glass and carafe, with bottles creeping upwards from around €22.50.

Of the starters, my spicy chicken wings are honey-tangy and moreish, with a good, thick and creamy blue cheese dip — even if the meat itself is too dry. A ham hock terrine is stringy and flavoursome, its cool roundness offset by a sharp, homemade piccalilli.

The fish cakes divide us. Their poached cod mix has a lovely texture, but comes heavily-infused with dill, a strong-tasting herb which isn’t mentioned on the menu. Slivers of cucumber are perfectly juicy, mind you, and the little squirts of avocado are gorgeous.

Of the mains, a rich wild mushroom risotto is augmented by just the right amount of spinach, but the rice itself is undercooked — in places quite hard and powdery to the bite. Roast lamb, served with roasted artichokes and creamed coco beans, is lovely and tender, and pink as a petal, but one of two orders arrives lukewarm.

The turkey breast, presented as a brick of white meat rather than thin slices, is professed “the nicest dinner I’ve had in months” by the brother. It comes with roasted parsnips, sprouts, gilrolles and gravy — good, hearty winter fare. The kids enjoy it too — we split a portion between them.

Pound for pound, desserts are the best course. An apple and rhubarb crumble is worth the 10-minute wait, its squishy flesh covered in sweet and crunchy oats. There’s also a shockingly good bread and butter pudding. I’m not a fan of the dish generally, but this creamy rendition, blending a comforting texture with sweet notes that give way to surprisingly multi-layered sensations in the mouth, is bloody good.

If you’re interested in more creative fare, then I’d advise an evening visit. Zammit has worked with Aiden Byrne (of The Commons) and RTÉ Masterchef ’s Dylan McGrath, and his a la carte menus offer slightly more adventurous dishes — hake with quinoa, clams and wild garlic, say, or langoustine with rabbit, cauliflower and chervil sauce.

And once winter beds in, an evening meal could be just the ticket. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, The Brown Bear runs a courtesy car service to hotels and homes in Naas, Newbridge and Kilcullen.

THE TAB: Sunday lunch for six adults and two kids came to €159.35, without wine. Tip extra.

HOW TO: Dinner: Weds, Thurs, Friday and Saturday, 6pm-9pm; Lunch: Saturday, 12.30pm-2.30pm and Sunday, 2.30pm-4pm

The Verdict

Food: 6/10
Service: 6/10
Ambiance: 7/10
Wine: 6/10
Value: 6/10

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