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Accomplished Cooking in Attractive Corner of Wexford
Aldridge Lodge is one of Ireland’s hidden gems. A top class restaurant, with a Michelin bib since 2007, in rural surroundings just outside of the Wexford village of Duncannon (with its Kennedy family connections). Amazing food here and, hidden or not, you’ll be well advised to book well in advance. Even more so if you want one of the three rooms on offer.
The beautiful spacious rooms are very much in demand and I’m told that groups make annual dates here. They enjoy a great meal, at very reasonable prices, and then take a bottle or two of wine upstairs, where there is a very comfortable common room, and chat into the night.
Aldridge Lodge may in a secluded part of County Wexford but you won’t feel isolated here as the marvellous Hook Head Peninsula is just a short drive away - you may visit the lighthouse, the haunted Loftus Hall, Tintern Abbey and its 200-year old Colclough Gardens, and Ballyhack and its castle, and so much more.
Duncannon Tasting Plate
Billy Whitty and Joanne Harding are the owners here and the welcome is warm. Chef Billy met us as we parked and helped bring in the cases and invited us to come down for dinner at our leisure.
And it is leisurely, no rush, but no delays either! First you are brought into the bar area. The menus are brought as you sip your drink - I enjoyed their special Aldridge “G&T”! They don’t have a spirits licence so the special “G&T” is based on white port. Delicious!
The choice for the 35 seater restaurant is fantastic, almost totally local. Billy’s family are involved in fishing and farming in the area and are the main suppliers.
They have a Tasting Menu for just €35.00. After an amuse bouche in the lounge, you move into the dining room and do watch out for a superb starter, the Duncannon Tasting Plate: Tempura smoked salmon, smoked salmon mousse, smoked sea trout and a divine smoked haddock fish pie.
The Middle Course may offer Twice cooked free-range pork belly rib with celeriac purée, soya and honey jus. Or Seared Kilmore scallop with Gubbeen chorizo croquette and creamed cauliflower. Each terrific.
If you are there in winter-time, it is probable that venison will feature. I certainly enjoyed the Venison haunch and loin with a black pudding cake and tomato. CL’s choice was also superb: Glazed Free Range Chicken Breast with spiced sprouts, cranberry compete, roast baby parsnips, golden raisins, almonds and pan juices.
Desserts are also rather special. Ours were Raspberry Tiramisu and a Vanilla Crême Brulée with honeycomb. There’s an interesting and wide-ranging wine list, also a selection of ports and dessert wines. Quite a few available by the glass. We finished off with one of their specials: a glass of the delicious Stonewell Tawny. They also have local beers, mainly from the Cleverman range.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke to see the December sun shining over Duncannon before heading down to the same room for breakfast, another five star event, again with Billy in the kitchen and also front of house!
We didn’t go for the Full Irish, but rather the Full Fish! Let me give you a few details; the magnificent plate came with plaice fillets, reinforced with a poached egg (choice of hen or duck), tomatoes and a Portobello mushroom. All that after some terrific starters including Pear poached in red wine and a Yogurt pot with hazelnuts and raspberry.
That set us up for the day, for sure. Time then for a leisurely chat with the chef/owner before we struck off to Ballyhack to begin the journey home with a short ferry trip to Passage East, all the while promising ourselves we’d be back!
Top chef Kevin Dundon circulated among the visitors to his Dunbrody House Hotel Market last Sunday and we had a chat as we bought some of his conserves and relishes. He’s particularly proud of his Lemon Curd and the Brandy Butter. Lots of other food on offer too from local producers and no shortage of Christmas crafts either in the cluster of yards and sheds.
Dunbrody House is in a wooded area above the small fishing village of Authorstown. The market is on every Sunday from noon until 4.00pm. It was packed at the weekend with both car parks close to full. And if you want to take a break from the shopping, then you may relax in the onsite pub with a drink and live music.
We had started the weekend a day earlier in Wexford town itself with its narrow busy streets. After the morning trip from Cork, a spot of brunch was in order and we found a good one in Button and Spoon, just a few steps up Church Lane from the quay. Excellent food and friendly people there.
Had a look around after that and called to Greenacres to do some Christmas shopping. Not difficult at all in that well-stocked emporium and a good amount of Irish produce, such as Bean and Goose Chocolate, Melanie Harty’s jellies and Tom Cowman’s Wexford Honey, included. And if you’re a sportsperson, you’ll note the sculpture of local hurling hero Nicky Rackard in an action pose on the street outside.
Not Nicky Rackard!
Headed north then, up along the coast until we came to the Strand Inn which has a fantastic position overlooking the sea and the pier at Cahore. They too put the emphasis on local (including Yellow Belly Beer) and there’s a fine menu there - I enjoyed my plate of Prawn Pil Pil as the daylight began to retreat. Must go back in the summer-time!
Our destination for the night was the Ashdown Park Hotel on the edge of Gorey and, after a warm welcome, we took a break here for an hour or two. We had a table booked at Table 41 on Main Street, about a ten minute walk away. A very tight menu in this upstairs venue but quite good food on offer and friendly service in this relatively new venue.
Back in the hotel bar, we were disappointed to find no craft beer at all, not even a bottle of any of the local brews. They did have some Irish gins though and we had a bit of a “tasting” with Blackwater, Drumshanbo and Short Cross in the mix. Breakfast was nothing to write home about.
Actually, there’s a much better brunch menu, believe it or not, in the cafe at the Hook Head Lighthouse, and it’s available all day Saturday and Sunday. They have upped their game here, as should all visitor attractions. Places like Good Day Deli (in Nano Nagle Place) and the Café in Cork’s Crawford are excellent examples. Some not so good that I can think of are the Skellig Visitor Centre on Valentia and Spike Island, unless they’ve improved over the last 12 months or so.
The weather was mainly cloudy and very windy at the Hook and that meant it was quite spectacular, a great day to visit! Even if we had to work our way through spray flying across the narrow approach road from time to time. Indeed, there is a wooden “rampart” by the lighthouse and we got an invigorating splash or two as we took in the views from that vantage point.
Dunbrody was our next stop and, after that, we came back down, just a few minutes drive, to Aldridge Lodge (near Duncannon). This is a Michelin Bib restaurant with just three rooms and luckily we had one booked.
Yogurt from the breakfast bar at Aldridge Lodge
Everything was just perfect here, from the warm welcome by owner and chef Billy Whitty to the fantastic evening meal based hugely on local, even family, produce. No full bar here so no draught or whiskey. But no shortage (they carry the local Cleverman beers) and we finished the pleasant evening with a drop of the Stonewell Tawny.
We would leave the following morning but not before a treat of a breakfast.The plaice was served with a poached egg (hen or duck), mushroom and tomato. It was a great start to the day. Time then to say goodbye to this highly recommended place and head to the village of Ballyhack to take the ferry to the Waterford side (8 euro single trip); we were home in less than two hours overall after two great December days in the Model County!