I’m known as a good eater and like most foods; you might say that makes me a poor food critic and I would forgive you for thinking that. It is true that I don’t like wasted food and will eat virtually anything unless contaminated or inedible. However, I have a very good taste palate and can certainly distinguish between good, excellent and average quality food. You will see the reasons for this introduction soon, since the superlatives that I am going to use are, in my very humble opinion, completely justified.
Avoca Handweavers will be known to a lot of people from Leinster for its operation in Kilmacanogue, close to Enniskerry and not far from Bray, Co. Wicklow. Famous for its craft shop and cafe, they have now built an attractive restaurant on the same site known as the Fern House. It is not cheap but the adage ‘you pay for what you get’ is very true in this instance. They don’t open every evening but on Thursdays offer a special menu and my dining companion and myself decided to try it.
For starters we had the crab pot and salmon respectively. My Castletownbere crab was absolutely delicious, accompanied by a lovely salad with delicate dressing. Crab often tastes tired, particularly if it is some time between capture and cooking, but this was totally fresh, proving to be a theme for the rest of the offerings that evening. The salmon was equally fresh, with a lovely pink colour and delicate taste.
I decided to opt for the duck for my main; as with the fish the meat was incredibly tasty. The accompanying mashed potatoes, vegetables and salad were equally flavoursome; presentation was equally impressive and service was prompt, despite a busy Thursday evening. My companion had the Middle-Eastern slow-cooked lamb which I also tasted; this was bursting with flavour and the accompanying dips were eagerly mopped up with the pita bread. The bed of cous cous and pulses were a lovely foil to the sharpness and tang of the sauces - the balance between the slight hotness of the beetroot dip was beautifully countered by the mint dip.
We were not going to bother with dessert, but tempted by the excellent starters and mains, decided to see what was on offer. We both opted for the Chocolate and Guinness Mousse with Bailey’s cream and I would have to say it was sensational. The mousse was fluffy and delicate, with tempting chocolate pieces hidden inside; the Guinness was a mere hint and did not dominate the proceedings in any way. The Bailey’s also ran the risk of dominating, but the kitchen achieved a wonderful balance of tastes and blends. It was so tasty that we would return to the restaurant solely on the basis of having it again.
Service was excellent; our Hungarian-born waiter had excellent English and was most charming and helpful. I should mention that the menu excludes a 12.5% service charge but do not begrudge this as it goes straight to the staff. Since I was driving I did not try the wine list (€19.99 [€20] a bottle on the Thursday menu); an excellent alternative was a large jug of their homemade lemonade which contained examples of other fruits beside lemons and which got better as the evening went on!
I can’t wait to return to the Fern House, Kilmacanogue. It is on the main N11 road to Wicklow and Wexford; for those arriving by car it is easy and I believe the main bus services also stop close to the Handweavers. I urge you to wait for a special occasion and bring someone for whom you care for a very special treat.