"This is the dream." Jordan Bailey, head chef at Aimsir, the new restaurant at Cliff at Lyons, is surveying his new domain at the heart of the Co Kildare property, which is part of Barry O'Callaghan's Cliff Collection, along with the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore and the Cliff Townhouse in Dublin.
Cornwall-born Bailey was previously head chef at Maaemo, an Oslo restaurant with three Michelin stars, and his collaborator in this project is his Danish wife of just over a year, Majken Bech-Bailey, who will run front of house and manage the restaurant.
In the main – sugar being one of a couple of exceptions – only ingredients that are indigenous to the island of Ireland, and its coast, will be used in the kitchen here. The restaurant will serve a no-choice tasting menu, running to 18 servings of food, priced at €105 per person, with drinks pairings at an optional additional cost of €85 or €40 (non-alcoholic).
The hotel’s former cookery school, one of many pretty, cut-stone buildings in the grounds, has been transformed into a stunning 24-seat dining room and bar area that seamlessly blends old and new and raises the bar on restaurant design in Ireland.
BusbyWebb, a London consultancy specialising in branding, interior architecture and communications, has been responsible for the transformation, the scope of which becomes apparent from the entrance, a discreet opening in a dramatic black, burnt larch-clad wall, part of an extension to the building.
Inside, the bar area has a wall of glass on one side, which will open to the landscaped garden, and a stove set into an Irish limestone wall on the other. Pre- and post dinner drinks will be served here, to guests seated in comfortable velvet upholstered armchairs and stools.
The real story begins to unfold behind another set of discreet, almost invisible doors. A narrow passageway is lined with glass-fronted storage, displaying on one side some of the restaurant's wine collection, and on the other the kitchen's pickles and ferments, in giant Kilner jars, as well as a meat-ageing cabinet.
In the dining space, two beautifully crafted Irish oak work stations dominate the room. One will be the “pass” where dishes will be finished and plated before being delivered by the chefs to the diners. From the other, Bech-Bailey will manage the front of house service. Both pieces of furniture were custom made, handcrafted by Carlow firm, ICON Windows.
The kitchen, or “cooking suite” is also open to the room, although behind glass, and the intention, Bailey says, is to have the chefs engage more with the diners and vice versa. “Instead of having a chefs’ table, where you’re pulling the guests into the kitchen, we’re pulling the kitchen out to the guests.”
It’s a handsome, restrained space, with rough plastered walls, midnight blue on one side, and a gold-flecked soft beige on the other. The original tall arched windows have been retained in the dining room, flooding the space with light during the day. But at night there will be an entirely different feel to the room.
“The lighting is very important, throughout the whole building,” Bailey says. Each of the six large circular dining tables will be spotlit, as will the pass and the host station – which Bailey calls “Majken’s pass”. The idea, he says, is to “illuminate just the tables and the pass, so you create all this dark space. When you sit at your table, it feels like you almost have the room to yourself.”
In the kitchen, Bailey has enlisted Englishman James Bevan, formerly head chef at Vue de Monde in Melbourne, as his number two. Australian Tim Davies joins from Noma in Copenhagen, taking up the junior sous position.
Roisin O'Connor, ex-MacNean House, is also on the team, along with David Dos Santos (ex-Cava), Andy Roche, returning from Canada, and Tom Downes, who worked with Bailey at Maaemo.
Front of house, Cathryn Steunenberg is sommelier and Rose OToole is mixologist, while Bech-Bailey will be assisted by Martin Cooper and Eva Cios.
Reservations have been released for Aimsir’s Wednesday to Saturday dinner services for the period to the end of July, and Bailey says he is “very happy” with the response, with “a lot more locals than we initially thought we’d get.”
The first paying guests will come through the doors next Wednesday, May 8th, and before that there are three preview nights, for press, family and friends, and suppliers. “Friday is the suppliers’ dinner; we invited our suppliers from all over Ireland, expecting half of them wouldn’t be able to come, and they have all accepted, so we have to fit 28 people into a 24-seat restaurant,” Bailey says.