A winner by the water
The Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar in Sallins, Co Kildare, is turning up the heat in the kitchen, says Lucinda O’Sullivan, with a tip-top husband-and-wife cheffing team proving that two heads are better than one
The old adage may well be ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ but when you encounter two cooks of the calibre of Nicola Curran and Josef Zammit, you are onto a winner. The husband-and-wife team have just opened the hip Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar on the banks of the Grand Canal at Sallins, where the vibe may be ‘casual’ but the service, food and ambiance are superbly professional. Curran has been teaching at Dublin’s Cooks Academy on South William Street, while Zammit has been head chef at the Brown Bear, near Naas. Prior to that, they worked respectively at The Ledbury and Tom Aikens in London, and, after London, they worked together at Dylan McGrath’s former Mint in Ranelagh. Sallins is a pretty location, which could become a dining destination, already having two gastropubs — the excellent Lock 13 and the newly opened Bridgewater Inn — as well as Cafe Grange.
The compact exterior and chic downstairs wine and tapas bar of Two Cooks belie the large upstairs restaurant, which runs across two buildings. The decor is cool, with suitably muted colours, darkwood, French-style chairs, and banquette and booth areas. We were lucky enough to bag a table by the window, overlooking the barges on the canal on one side and, on the other, a bird’s-eye view of the pass, where Zammit and his team were working in a quiet, focused manner. The menu offers two/three courses at €29/€36, or with wine pairings at €42/€56. The other option was a five-course tasting menu with wine at €85. If you have the appetite, from what we experienced, I would certainly recommend it.
A sublimely flavoured amuse of brandade, with a crisp codskin feather and fennel ash, plus excellent sourdough bread, got us off to a good start. From a trio of starters, my friend Mary chose a mackerel dish with a wine-pairing glass of Verdejo, while I went for a venison parcel — and driver’s water! The third starter option was ham croquette, bacon cream and crushed peas. What we had was spectacular in all respects, combining colour and content with superb textures and flavours. The mackerel, with tomato and garlic leaf mayonnaise, was enveloped in nasturtium leaves; while the venison was a heavenly cube sitting in a rich jus with charred baby globe artichoke, scallions and radish wafers.
Mains featured cod, chicken, duck or lamb. Mary loved her dark, rich, soft, succulent duck leg with mangetout and confit orange — the colours were totally lifted by the sharp, snowy contrast of the little white turnip, which the French love and know as le navet. With this, she had a glass of Ribero del Duero. I had lamb, which was the only slight glitch. While it came as a beautifully presented noisette sitting on silky burrata, green beans and polenta cubes, scattered with oak leaves and dukkah (an Egyptian-style mix of herbs, nuts and spices), the lamb was too chunky and dry. A smaller morsel of pink, seasonal spring lamb would have sat better with the elegant presentation. Noticing I hadn’t finished it, it was removed from the bill without fuss — not easy to write off ‘the profit’, I guess, when just starting out. We also had sinful cauliflower gratin and little nutty Ratte potatoes at €3 each.
We finished on a high note with a sublime dessert of rhubarb, marshmallow and nut crumble (€6.50) and, with Mary’s twocourse with wine (€42), my venison starter (€6.50), the sides and desserts, our commuted bill with optional service was €69. It’s a classy joint with food from the heart — beat a path.
Two Cooks Restaurant & Wine Bar, Canal View, Sallins, Co Kildare. Tel: (045) 853-768 twocooks.ie