So let’s begin with a statement, I think Aimsir might be the most exciting Irish restaurant opening in a decade.
Chef Jordan Bailey and his restaurant manager wife, Majken Bech, spent their formative years in Michelin starred restaurants (Bailey was head chef in 3-Star Maaemo in Oslo), and they have now settled in Ireland, lucky us.
Aimsir uses only Irish ingredients, with the exception of sugar, and the aim is to ‘celebrate what can be sown, fished, harvested or foraged’ in Ireland. Sage in Midleton’s excellent 12 Mile menu does something similar and Irish produce is paramount in all our best restaurants but what is new here is Bailey and his team’s mastery of technique and intensity of focus paired with Bech and her team’s skill at matching their dishes with wine and magical juices created from flowers, fruits and leaves.
During the 15 month hiatus before the restaurant opened Bailey and Bech must have visited every Irish townland, hedgerow, wood and shoreline and seem to have scoured Ireland and the globe to assemble their talented brigade of chefs and front of house staff.
Aimsir’s dining room is small (24 covers maximum), calm and bright with a view of the gardens — the kitchen fills one side of the room while dishes are quietly plated and finished on a pass within the restaurant.
Given that Aimsir is celebrating Irish produce our meal appropriately began with spuds: a one-bite dehydrated and crisped violetta potato (from Ballymakenny Farm of course), filled with creamy garlic-infused Bán goat’s cheese. This woke up our taste-buds nicely and was a pleasingly substantial beginning.
Every dish contained several elements and often multiple cooking techniques so I’m not going to catalogue each one but merely pick out some highlights. Brittle creamy and crispy milk-skin was filled with pickled Chanterelles and seasonal St George’s mushrooms, 64 day aged Dexter beef tartare was served with smoked eel in a crisp shell made from its own tripe — the sweet beef flavours rounded and deepened by the earthy, creamy tripe flavours.
A tiny snake of thin Kelp slices came next, cooked in blackcurrant juice with lemon verbena and instantly cleaned our palates, followed by a Flaggy Shore oyster poached lightly in koji butter and apple balsamic.
As an example of the attention to detail at Aimsir, let’s talk about the bread course. Soda bread was made from an organic heritage variety of wheat milled fresh in the kitchen, the dough sweetened a little with Guinness and Highbank treacle before being cooked in beef fat and served straight from the oven.
The salted butter was also made fresh in the kitchen from organic raw milk and its creamy pungency knitted in beautifully.
My guest was served a local red ale to match and I was served a Hawthorn and Nettle tea with rosehip which possibly worked even better — earthy fresh and hoppy with a background sweetness that lifted and intensified all the other flavours.
Wine and juice matching is a core part of the dining experience at Aimsir with a strong emphasis on boutique organic and natural producers, some of which are imported directly. Majken and her Sommelier Cathryn are a joy to listen to and Majken’s juices are as creative, complex and substantial as Jordan’s cooking.
A few more flavours: grilled Drummond House Asparagus was decorated with fresh leaves and flowers to catch the eye while a nettle and chamomile flower sauce lifted the sweet earthy flavours.
Hot smoked mussels, Skate with wild garlic, heather smoked mutton heart slices, intensely rich slow cooked Achill mutton with clarified sheep’s yoghurt, Young Buck cheese, fermented koji molasses tart that tasted like an earthily intense chocolate and sheep milk fudge petit-fours. The only flavour that clashed a little was an intense gooseberry juice (with smoked rapeseed oil) that rather overwhelmed some delicate raw razor clam.
As courses kept coming, and my mind kept expanding I wondered if this is how a new born baby must feel, new neural pathways were being created with each flavour, each building on the foundation of the previous one — as though my palate was being re-assembled anew — Aimsir is quite simply an exhilarating thrill-ride for the senses.
Dinner for two including pre-dinner drinks, an 18-course tasting menu (€105) each — one matched with wine (€85) and one matched with juice (€40) — cost €353.50
Wednesday to Saturday, 7pm-9pm
In a sentence:
An exhilarating journey through Irish food over 18 meticulously presented, flavour-focused courses.
Aimsir Restaurant, Cliff at Lyons, Lyons Road, Celbridge, Co Kildare.
Tel: 01-6303500; www.aimsir.ie