Jonathan Keane is one of Irelands finest chefs. I first met JK in the Mill Times in Westport when as a young chef after he sent an email to the late Paolo Tullio and said he thought his cooking was coming on and maybe we’d like to try it.
Well, pate lollipops before they were popular and a marmalade rubbed ham with savoury porridge proved him right.
It wasn’t long before the Lodge at Ashford came calling; he has the kitchen here now for ten years, and the awards keep rolling in. We’ve eaten here several times but there has been a break since Covid and it is interesting to see the development. Less flourishes, more confidence? No less inventiveness, flavour or passion and a fabulous team out front.
The Wilde restaurant is in the main house and our table faces a window and the views over lough Corrib are stunning on this the hottest evening of the year, and possibly never more beautiful. Sommelier Maria hails from Slovenia, and in addition to a fine selection is old world classics she has introduced some bio natural wines from her part of the world and two wines are recommended, Steigler – Gruner Veltliner from Spron in Hungary and Kadarka, Heimann & Fiai
I do not drink, and maitre Erwin treated me to some of the newly fermented Keffir with lemon and apple juice, which he tells me is on its 138 iteration, a project managed under the careful eye of Joseph Meyer. There is a theme here. People have projects, they have a stake in this restaurant above their job. They are going above and beyond.
The menu is now a la carte, with a huge emphasis on local and seasonal, and the philosophy is sustainable and natural - even the menu is printed on simple brown paper, which I have to say I liked.
An amuse bouche brings us wild mushroom arancini, the mushrooms foraged in the local woods by the kitchen team. There is amazing sourdough baked in house with Cuinneog butter, or the kitchens own marrowbone butter.
A line caught piece of tuna sits on tiny foraged mushrooms and a little dish of the most exquisite tomato water with a hint of strawberry is poured over. It’s possibly the best tuna dish I have ever had. Extraordinary.
Ceviche of scallops is sweeter and delicate and beautifully presented in a dish on a plate with leaves and elderflower. Not to eat just to look pretty, but there is an elderflower vinegar on the scallop and the results are sublime.
A chefs surprise brings us a taste of the wild rabbit pithivier with sharp sea buckthorn jelly and carrot and ginger purée. This is a family recipe from one of the chefs on the team, and this is his Gallic contribution. There’s that above and beyond again.
Mains bring us a stunning piece of butter poached turbot with a marrowbone mash and rich duck fat hollandaise, while a Connemara lobster is served two ways, the tail meat roasted in the shell and served standing alone, while the claw meat is served with linguine in a stunning sauce made with the shells and exploding with flavour.
A break follows and then we indulge in a strawberry soufflé and the most amazing deconstructed profiteroles I have ever had, little balls of home made ice cream in choux, sitting on discs of almond tulle.
Jonaton Keane’s cooking just keeps on getting better. This is a chef brimming with confidence, heading a team that are pulling together to create an ethos, not just a dinner. The sustainability is built into every fabric of the meal, from the menu to the foraged foods, the line caught tune,the local lobster, the leaves and produce all grown in the kitchen gardens.
There is a ten year plan. They will be fully stainable. Greener than green. There will be smokehouses and underground mushroom growing. There is commitment and investment and guiding it all is a chef on a mission to create beautiful food with a happy team and supportive owners. It sounds like it will all come together!