Young Chef Kevin Aherne’s Sage Restaurant has developed at its own pace and on its own terms, evolving into an excellent restaurant, combining attention to detail, attentive, friendly service and a wonderfully executed menu, with a huge emphasis on using the finest ingredients from local producers. More than just a local hero, Sage is a national star in the making.
Housed in a gorgeous, old, renovated stoneclad-building through an archway just off Midleton’s main street, the welcoming lightfilled interior is discreetly finished: plain, cream walls, wooden floors, simple white tables and comfortable high-backed leather chairs. A large rectangular opening in the wall onto the kitchen doubles as a serving hatch and a ‘widescreen TV’ view of Aherne and his chefs at work.
Aherne juggles up to five different menus in a week – lunch, brunch, early bird, dinner and the renowned ’12-mile Menu’, wherein every ingredient bar butter, cream (both still from Co Cork), salt and sugar are sourced from within a 12-mile radius of the restaurant. Only the very best local producers will suffice – Woodside Farm’s award-winning rare breed pedigree pork and ham, Mike Kenneally’s aged Angus beef from Garryvoe, fish from Ballycotton and a variety of top-class local fruit and vegetables ensure Aherne’s produce is amongst the very best available in Ireland; Aherne’s talent ensures more than justice is done to the quality of the ingredients. The beef is slow-braised overnight till it all but melts onto the plate, a deep characterful flavour enhanced by bacon lardons and buttered and salted roast baby carrots, sinful yet sublime. A single baked potato, crisped skin as delectable as the floury spud within, illustrates perfectly Aherne’s philosophy of taste first, fashion a very distant second indeed. Succulent Roast Shoulder of Pork in a little jus comes with apple sauce and turnip or sweet red cabbage and a plum confit, traditional sounding but exquisite and rendered with the same confidence Aherne brings to more adventurous items on the menu such as a starter of Grilled Ballycotton mackerel with pickled fennel & Thai caramel (€8.50) or Saffron tempura monkfish, rocket mash, wasabi guacamole & chorizo salsa (€23.95) available on the dinner menu.
Sunday brunch offers traditional grilled free range sausages and bacon alongside eggs (also, naturally, free-range) served up in multiple combinations hinting at the much-travelled Aherne’s interest in global cuisines. Steak and crab along with crispy rustic potatoes also feature in what could easily see brunch dragging on wonderfully for an entire day. Even the kids’ menu is something special with nary a chicken nugget in sight. On our visit, a 15-month-old wolfed down a pea risotto while a four-year-old made short work of a homemade burger and stringy fries that had us drooling on the other side of the table – especially after tasting a most reluctantly parted-with sample.
A relatively short but sterling and reasonably priced wine list is a confident combination of the mainstream and the offbeat, all in keeping with the standards set elsewhere. So far, the only complaint we have about Sage is it isn’t open 24 hours a day!