Aimsir: A whole new level of fine dining in Ireland
We had been anticipating our dinner in Aimsir for weeks. Taking a night off with a small child requires organisation, especially when the restaurant is located far away from the city centre, but we were utterly eager to try what is fair to call the most anticipated opening of the year - if not the decade - in Ireland.
Alas, a few days before D-day, I started feeling the symptoms of a cold, and while I didn’t end up very sick, my senses of smell and taste went numb. I was counting the hours, hoping I would get my sensations back in time for the meal. I mean, it’s okay to not fully enjoy your bowl of morning porridge because of a blocked nose, but eating the most refined food in the country and getting the same thrill as with a piece of stale sliced pan is a straight-up shame.
As we made our way to the restaurant, cozily nestled in Cliff at Lyons in Kildare, my sad condition had improved but my tastebuds were still recovering from numbness.
After a warm welcome, we sat down at one of six tables set for the night (two of which had a single person seated, making us wonder if they might be Michelin inspectors) and started watching the show. An evening at Aimsir isn’t a dinner, it’s a proper culinary event. The 18-course experience involves every single member of the brigade alternatively bringing the dishes to the table and explaining them to the guests. We got to meet all of the talented young chefs, all incredibly proud and contagiously excited about what they were doing in this kitchen. Everything that is brought to the tables in Aimsir comes from the island of Ireland - bar the sugar, but they are working on that. At a time when issues such as global warming and Brexit question the provenance of all the produce we can get in Ireland, placing such emphasis on making the most of what is locally available is not only a laudable project, it’s a societal statement.
Our first course was a violetta potato from Ballymakenny with Boyne Valley cheese, pickled Drummond House black garlic and with a thin slice of Irish summer truffle. I did get some lovely flavours from this mouthful, but I can’t say that I was overwhelmed. I expected to get more strength coming from the truffle, which was disappointing. The following dish, a milk skin crisp with chanterelles and hen of the woods, didn’t make me scream with pleasure either. But as we made our way through the dinner, it was like my sense of taste awoke. Plate after plate, I felt the dimension of the dishes more, the work on textures, the smells, and the balance of flavours became more and more relevant and accurate to me. It’s like Aimsir brought my tastebuds back to life.
Among the highlights of the night were the Flaggy Shore oyster poached in koji butter and apple balsamic, which was possibly my favourite mouthful of the year.
The baby leeks and roots fried in smoked bone marrow offered the perfect umami bite, the Howth caught crab with garden peas screamed like the Irish coastline, while the mature organic chicken breast poached in brown butter and hazelnut miso made me rethink everything I knew about chicken.
The aptly acclaimed Young Buck cheese was served with a puffed biscuit, and some gorgeous strawberries gained daintiness with a chamomile jelly and a rose petal reduction. The toasted koji tart, topped with Teeling whiskey cream, brought an enjoyable feel of indulgence to the end of the meal.
It’s impossible to talk about Aimsir without mentioning the sommelier Cathryn Steunenberg. This lady is the most passionate person I have ever met. The smile she had on her face when she was talking about the wines we got to enjoy throughout the night was infectious. I think Cathryn loves wine and everything about wine more than I love baguette.
She cleverly recommended a red wine from Tenerife, made with grapes that grow on the side of a volcano. Served slightly chilled, which is unusual for a red, it paired beautifully with the dishes and offered some beautiful smoky flavours.
This tasting menu in Aimsir sets you back €105 per person, which I find almost hard to believe. The amount of work involved in every single dish makes me doubt the fact that they can make any money with a price so low. Having a restaurant of this level definitely places Cliff at Lyons on the forefront of the culinary scene in Ireland and even in Europe so I guess making money isn’t what Aimsir is about for now.
While the restaurant is only a few months old, it’s already obvious that Jordan Bailey and his team are shooting for the stars (and quite a few of them). Former head chef at three-star Michelin restaurant Maaemo in Oslo, Norway, the Cornwall-born chef and his wife Majken Bech Bailey have brought a whole new level of fine dining to Ireland and their work surely will get the attention of Michelin and World’s 50 best inspectors - a moment that food commentators in Ireland have been waiting for for too long.