Green light for this new restaurant just off the M9
A winning combination of a kitchen that knows how to cook with a garden that knows how to grow
The Green Barn
- Burtown House and Garden, Athy, Co Kildare
- (059) 8623148
Here’s a place so hygge you nearly have to tell it to “back off” because you’ve only just met. That Danish idea of harnessing the cosy to cope with the bleak runs through The Green Barn like a name through a stick of rock.
We sit beside people whose homes must have been about as hygge as a walk-in fridge if their clothes are anything to judge by.
Forget double denim, the subjects in photographer James Fennell’s Vanishing Ireland portraits do double woollen, possibly even triple if you factor in a vest.
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Those great faces hang on the wall in the restaurant in the grounds of Fennell’s home – the 300-year-old Burtown House outside Athy in Co Kildare.
The Green Barn is a new wooden building that went up over the summer, all timber-clad shed from the back, walls of glass doors to the front, decked out inside with more scaffolding timbers than you’d need to re-glaze Liberty Hall.
Tables and benches made from the chalky old timbers sit on a floor of them beside walls part-clad in them, giving this new build a resolutely solid feel.
The Scandi-shabby look is jazzed up with a few bonkers touches.
A taxidermied swan, ratty brown with age, is in full flight down the middle of the room, flanked by huge glass vases of murky water with floating apples sprouting autumn branches.
The star attraction sits outside the doors to the front.
It’s Burtown’s walled kitchen garden, which is under the watch of gardener Dermot Carey. I’ve been stalking Carey for years, first at the Dominican Convent in Wicklow town where he managed my old school’s biodynamic vegetable farm.
He’s worked at Lissadell House and Gardens in Sligo and is also the green thumb behind the Inishowen vegetable gardens used by Harry’s of Brigend.
Celebrity kitchen gardeners aren’t a thing but Dermot Carey is a star.
Joanna Fennell is the brains behind the décor and what a press release describes as “honest, unfussy and unpretentious” food. Beef, eggs and poultry come from local organic farms. They have their own pigs and are experimenting with curing the pork to make pata negra.
All of this has brought us barrelling down here for a family lunch. The restaurant is only open one evening a week on a Saturday. For a place open just five weeks, they’re busy. I’m blaming this busy-ness for the fact that service is a bit wobbly despite a small army of friendly staff.
We bridge the breadless lull at the start by spotting old implements dotted around the place. Are those gruesome spiky ones for carding wool or taming hungry boys’ hair?
A glass of unfiltered Côtes du Rhône “smells like Copenhagen”, says he who is not driving home, before he lapses into contented silence over an octopus salad so good it seems weird we’ve had to drive inland to find it.
There are smoky charred gnarly bits of octopus beside a puddle of golden eggy garlic mayo – vehement enough to start its own Twitter account. A basil pesto tastes deeply green and shards of golden beet look like mango mixed with cabbages and kales that prove winter greens can be fun.
My favourite is a lilac-coloured curly kale so beautiful it looks more like it sprouted on the Great Barrier Reef than from the dark crumbly soil outside.
Beet and goats cheese comes with a poached egg in the middle to ooze umber yellow around the elegantly different treatments of this much maligned root vegetable.
Golden beets are sliced and purple ones have had two different pickles, one sweet and gingery, the other more old-school vinegary. There’s a beet hummus and a sweetly great parsnip puree. Clumps of St Tola goats cheese prove that you can pull off a menu cliché when you make every element of it special.
There’s a juicy burger laced with rosemary and served on a great house bun. A kids’ version comes with a chicken fillet in the bun that wasn’t ordered but is happily eaten, along with the vegetables that also come on the children’s meals.
I’m happy they’re eating them. They’d happily skip them but here’s to a restaurant that doesn’t dumb down its €7 children’s plates.
A wedge of focaccia is topped with tomato and mozzarella on one plate and good house-made tomato sauce coats pasta on another.
My parchment parcel of brill steamed in its own juices with a sliver of romanesco cabbage, red onion and garlic is great. Spinach has been dressed with a nutty oil (sesame laced with fish sauce is my best guess) showcasing another great take on a vegetable that typically gets the “kitchen-whatevs” treatment steamed and served limp and lovelorn.
Good Illy coffee comes with the only ordinary element of the meal. Brownies, an almond and orange cake, and biscotti are all fine, but suffer just by being not as stellar as the food that’s gone before.
This is ironic as The Green Barn could have gone down the tearoom’s route of full-on cake and scones.
Instead, they’ve taken on the challenge of putting the food from vanishing farming traditions onto beautiful plates. I take my tweed hat off to them.
Combining a kitchen that knows how to cook with a garden that knows how to grow has turned this big house squarely towards a more democratically delicious future.
Sunday lunch for five with Kombucha, elderflower cordial a glass of wine and two coffees came to €118.50
Facilities: Set a new standard in rustic-hipster
Music: Easy on the ear reggae and jazz
Food Provenance: “Almost always” straight from the garden or local organic suppliers
Vegetarian options: Good
Wheelchair access: Yes
Verdict: 8.5/10 – worth a trip, as those Michelin lads might say.