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Sage takes food very, very seriously but it doesn’t see food as a status symbol, as anything to get snooty about. Food is not a social weapon here. So, everybody feels at home.
Sage is always busy. The reasons why the genuinely disparate folk descend on this restaurant are probably wide and varied but I’d guess that most of them are there because they know that this is one of the best places to eat for miles and miles, that it’s all about local food and that chef Kevin Aherne’s cooking is subtle, unflashy and based on the idea that it’s good to let great food do most of the talking.
These all add up to a collectively compulsive reason for beating a path to Sage’s door. But I want to suggest another reason as to why Sage is so popular.
It’s democratic. It makes every effort to source as much as possible from within 12 miles of the premises – but it doesn’t make a song and dance about it. It takes food very, very seriously but it doesn’t see food as a status symbol, as anything to get snooty about. Food is not a social weapon here. So, everybody feels at home (apart, I hope, from the food snobs but they probably come anyway because they have heard so much about the place).
There’s a theme here, beyond the local one. It’s taste. I mean that all of these elements simply have more taste than you can normally reasonably expect. They punch, to use the cliché, way above what we might perceive to be their weight.
The great food writer Curnonsky said that great food tastes intensely of itself and that’s the theme at Sage. It’s born of very, very careful selection and very, very skilled cooking.
Especially happy memories of the 12 Mile selection of little outbursts of deliciousness include, for me, carpaccio of beef, juicily, served with minute and crisply coated onion rings. Homemade black pudding, rich, chewy with oats and with a mineral kick that comes from fresh blood, all of this cut by a tart relish.
And simple, naked, unadorned, homemade smoked salmon, impeccably salted, subtly smoked, melting in texture. A croquette of what I can only describe as essence of chicken was a crisp ball with a melting, fabulously rich and concentrated filling, perfectly seasoned and well herbed.
Finally, there was a little ingot of chicken and duck terrine (largely made with confit leg meat, I reckon), and a fluffy little portion of fresh Ardsallagh goat’s cheese from Jane Murphy over by Carrigtwowhill (with a crisp sliver of gossamer toast).