Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sky’s The Limit At Sage

Sky’s The Limit At Sage
Rhubarb, buckwheat and buttermilk
Sage in Midleton is the home of the 12 Mile Menu, brought to your table by chef Kevin Aherne and his band of local suppliers (whose photos you may see on the restaurant walls).

I remember many years ago a senior cleric from West Cork admitting to jealousy as he drove through the rich fields of East Cork, full of thriving crops and “contented cattle”. And it is bang in the middle of those fields and farms that Kevin established his 12 mile menu.
Potato bread
“He was the first chef to come out to our farm to see how we were treating the animals,” one of the original suppliers told me a few years ago. He was impressed and so too was Kevin as that supplier is still on the short list.

Kevin's attention to detail saw him build up his supplier base. And he pushed them onwards and upwards from time to time. But he soon found that the pushing wasn't all one way. The suppliers too had their pride and keen to see how the chef was handling their precious produce.

Delicious Squid
Momentum built. Ideas in fermentation. In Marination. In cooking. And over the past few years, the menu, a tweet here, a refinement there, has taken off. And has local been a limiting factor? No, not at all. On the contrary. It has concentrated the minds of the farmers, the fishermen, the foragers and the chef of course! In the fields, on the ocean, at the shore and in the kitchen. Now, the sky’s the limit. Twelve miles high. Maybe that’s what Kevin had in mind from day one!

One of my treats growing up in East Cork came when everyone else was finishing dinner, during the time of the new potatoes. Then I’d take whatever two or three were left, mix in butter, a sprinkle of salt and a cup of whole milk. Poppy paradise! That was how I started the Swinging 60s!
Beets & Rhubarb

In Sage on Friday last, I was treated to the 12 Mile variation. The bread, and delicious bread it was, was Fermented potato and cultured Jersey milk bread served with Organic rape seed and fennel oil. The amuse bouche was a little delight: Apple jam, goat cheese, Sage biscuit, with beetroot dust.

The momentum of the 12 mile menu saw the kitchen at full stretch and so they pulled back a little, simplified things a bit. The pace is better now and gives the chefs a chance to get out and meet the customers and so it was Kevin himself who served us our starters, both magnificent.
The description for mine was deceptively simple: Squid, sea spaghetti, parsley. Never had squid like this before. It came two ways, one cooked slowly in that milk, the other crisply done. Each had a different shade but each a delight on its own but put some of each in your mouth and the delight was more than doubled. And the sea spaghetti. Well that came from foraging down on Inch beach, just a few miles away. Meanwhile, CL was singing the praises of her beets and rhubarb. The  beetroot  was done in three variations, including raw, and the rhubarb’s texture was almost like that of a toffee.

CL is an experienced Hake eater at this stage but her mains was rather special: Hake, Oyster Mushroom, Spinach and sea vegetable. Quantity and quality were spot on, the fish was just perfect with exceptional company including celeriac puree, those Ballyhoura mushrooms and the sea veg (again from Inch). Here there are no big heavy sauces. The fish is the main event in this case and is given its chance to shine.
Must admit my choice of mains was influenced more by the dripping chips than the Sirloin; also on the plate were bone marrow and wild onion. I wasn't disappointed on any count. Everything came together so well, enjoyed the meat, the chips, and the accompanying flavours of the marrow and the wild onion. A perfect combination. We also had a side dish of mashed potato. As with the first course, clean plates went back.

And the trend would continue with dessert - you order dessert here at the start. I picked: chocolate, honey, salt. Sounds a bare description but the staff do fill you in on all the details. The chocolate, by local bean to bar maker Shana Wilkie, came in three variations, her 75%, 50% and a spoon or two of crumbled, and a dash of honey. Great stuff! What a pleasure to dispatch.
CL was tasting rhubarb for the second time: Rhubarb, buckwheat and buttermilk. A high class crumble really with a buttermilk ice-cream to crown it.  And another lovely finish.

By the way, we picked from the Early Evening Menu, a very reasonable thirty euro for three courses of immaculate quality (there was a 3 euro supplement for the sirloin). Next time, we’ll go for the A La Carte!
The counter
There is a great choice of drinks here, including an excellent wine list and indeed quite a selection of craft beers. I was on the beer. I’m told the American Amber by the Wicklow Brewing Company is very popular here and I could taste why! The wine was amazing, full of flavour and vivacity, a lovely Biohof Pratsch (2014) organic Gruner Veltliner. And speaking of drink… you must have a close look at the front of the bar. It is made with staves from casks of the local Midleton Distillery. That 12 mile philosophy!

And just to say too that the place, celebrating its 8th birthday, is lovely and becoming more so with an outdoor improvement due to finish next weekend. Will be great venue for the summer. And great staff outfront too, led by Kevin's wife Reidin. It just all seems to come together in a calm and friendly way - you can tell from the happy buzz!

The Courtyard
8 Main Street
Co. Cork
00353 21 4639682 
Twitter: @Sagemidleton 
51°54'56.9"N 8°10'25.8"W
Opening Hours:
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
5:30 pm - 9:00 pm
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm
5:30 pm - 9:30 pm
12:00 pm - 8:30 pm

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