Two Cooks review: A grand little restaurant on Kildare canal bank

Husband-and-wife behind Two Cooks in Sallins, Co Kildare

Two Cooks
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Address: Canal View
Telephone: 087 6689909
Cuisine: Irish
Cost: €€€

What would Paddy Kavanagh make of us now? Through his "chink too wide," he told us, "comes in no wonder." Well the chink has been blasted open, Paddy. In fact, your creaky old doorway is gone. And we're blinking in the dazzling white box glare of never having to wonder about anything again.

Checking out a menu online is the first step in deciding where to go for dinner. Welcome to the Wonderless Years.

Online menus are Tinder for restaurants, a way of swiping past the less attractive candidates before committing to the one, at least for tonight. And so the restaurants put it all out there. Even the citadels have been breached. You can watch epically tedious YouTube videos of diners “experiencing” their meal in famous impossible-to- book restaurants.

There’s nothing in the online menu for Two Cooks to scare the horses: a small menu offering a beetroot and goats cheese starter (yawn) and sole, pork or venison for main. Small changes might be made on the night, the “still under construction” website warns. Thankfully, the changes are more than small, and our dinner destination proves much more interesting in the flesh.


Two Cooks is tucked into a small terrace of buildings along the canal in the Kildare village of Sallins. Downstairs is a tiny wine bar with high rough plank bar tables, black painted metal stools topped with what look like bread boards, and bare brick and painted panelling.

Nicola Curran, one of the two cooks along with husband Josef Zammit, explains to another table that she hasn't had time to fill in the blackboard in the wine bar because they had a visit from the environmental health officer that day. (All went well, she assures.) I sip my sparkling water, feeling like the second horsewoman of the apocalypse.

The restaurant upstairs is a low-ceilinged space. Small sash windows look onto the canal, where canoeists slice through the still water on this sunny evening. Great smells are coming from the hot kitchen on this floor, and the dining room is filling with noise so loud the amuse bouche that arrives first sounds like a grandad mousse.

It’s not. It’s a brandade mousse – salty, airy whipped cod with dill oil and fronds and a crisp bit of cod skin turned into a fishy Ranchero. Curran explains that the house sourdough is a daily labour of love. The starter gets sluggish in cooler weather, so a little bit of patience is required. The end result is perfect – a nutty, warm and springy bread under a muscular crust.

My mackerel comes soused, which does two great things: it cuts the oiliness of this good for us but challenging fish, and it keeps the skin and flesh shimmering silver, rather than turning it mud brown. Blobs of gutsy wild garlic mayonnaise balance the sweet tang of the lightly pickled fish. Poached tomatoes and carrots finish off a beautiful bowl.

Across the table is a croquette of ham with a strong kick of mustard, some frilly Iberico ham sitting on top of a spoon-sticking bacon cream. It’s a more-is-more approach to the wonders of the pig. Some vibrant crushed peas deftly save it from tipping into salt overload. Mopping up the bacon cream with the house sourdough is a food memory worth the miles travelled.

A generous portion of lamb comes glazed sticky outside and sprinkled with a cumin-heavy dukkah of spices and crushed nut. There's a burrata, the whey-rich version of mozzarella that is typically served fresh but here has been cooked with broad beans, which gives them a farmyard tang that works. Four fish finger-coloured cubes of polenta chips and a slightly redundant lettuce leaf finish the plate.

A duck leg has been confited to a crisp skin and perfectly-seasoned finish with fresh mange tout and navet, a pretty white root veg that converts my turnip-hating mother into a fan.

Desserts are “naughty and nice”. We skip the explanation but inadvertently order the “nice” option. It’s rhubarb with house-made marshmallows, rhubarb cream and a crumble of sweetened nuts. Maple syrup and coconut sugar have been used as substitutes for the refined white stuff. A classic creme brulee is exactly what it says on the menu.

At last Sallins has more than a train robbery as its main claim to fame. Thanks to the two cooks at Two Cooks, it has itself a great little restaurant with a view of the canal, of which Paddy would certainly approve.

Dinner for two with a glass of house red came to €79.50

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests