The Green Barn
Burtown House
Co. Kildare
Phone: 059 862 3865

Irish Daily Mail
19 August 2017

There’s salad and salad. There’s the kind that comes as a bit of an afterthought: lettuce, a little rocket maybe and, if you’re lucky, a few little leaves of lamb’s lettuce. And there’s the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of salad which usually involves chewy bits of unskinned pepper and onion that was sliced too long ago for comfort.

There’s the brilliantly simple salad, like the crunchy leaves of gem lettuce bathed in a mustardy vinaigrette that I once ate as the sole accompaniment to a veal chop in Rowley Leigh’s late and much lamented Le Café Anglais in London.

And, finally, triumphantly, there’s the garden salad from a real garden that you can see as you eat it. This is a rare treat. You will find it at Ballymaloe and at Airfield in Dundrum. Its elements are dictated simply by what is in season, what is pickable today and, of course, the meticulous planning of a good gardener.

Well, one of the finest garden salads I’ve ever encountered was at The Green Barn, a delightful high-ceilinged, spacious café and restaurant just inside the gates of Burtown House which, in turn, is just off the road between the M9 and Athy in County Kildare. The moment you walk in, you just know that they do things properly here.

Maybe it’s the design; perhaps it’s the aromas from the kitchen or the selection of real foods on sale in the shop to the front. It could be the lovely prints of fruit and vegetables on every wall. Whatever it is, you’re in the presence of high standards and real quality. Rarely have I had such a positive premonition of an excellent lunch.

There’s a reassuringly short menu that starts with the delightful suggestion of a homemade elderflower Prosecco and proceeds into various salads, a risotto, fish dish with all manner of vegetables, followed by a much longer wine list.

A salad of goat’s cheese was impressive on a number of levels, not least in terms of quantity. A €15 salad might seem expensive but I defy anyone to find fresher raw materials and such a combination of textures and flavours for less. This was a salad to conjure with. There were several kinds of lettuce, pickled kohl rabi, little wedges of tiny purple-topped turnips, thin, coiled strips of yellow-skinned courgette, tiny golden beet slices, crunchy cucumber, broad beans (denuded of their tough, grey skins), nasturtium flowers, dill flowers, marjoram, toasted quinoa, even a couple of florets of broccoli. And, of course, melting goat’s cheese on a couple of slices of toasted sourdough.

This garden symphony was drawn together with a delicate dressing, sharp enough to deal with the cheese, gentle enough to let the plant elements each speak for itself.

Like the tables, the setting, the whole atmosphere, the word that springs to mind when describing this salad is rustic. Rustic but very carefully composed, very well thought through.

The organic beef burger triumphed in terms of meaty flavour and on scale: when compressed I could actually take a bite out of it. It was sandwiched in a shiny, light textured bun with beetroot slaw (which coloured the bread Barbie pink), caramelised onions and smoked Knockanore cheese (from my part of the country in West Waterford). It came with a little green salad of mainly Asian mustard and mizuna leaves dressed with peppery oil and sprinkled with toasted seeds. Around its edge were some slices of pickled beetroot, gold and red.

All this came on a board (I’m a fan of the Twitter account @WeWantPlates but this was fine) with excellent twice-cooked chips and a little garlic mayonnaise.

Remarkably, after all this we still found enough appetite to share a slice of lemon drizzle cake with whipped cream and a sharpener of a macchiato each.

With two glasses of wine and a big carafe of perfectly filtered tap water (unlimited supply for €1), our bill for this feast came to €44.40.

Burtown House has been in the Fennell family for generations. Still life and portrait painter Lesley Fennell is the daughter of the great botanical artist, Wendy Walsh. Her son, James Fennell is a distinguished photographer. His wife, Joanna, is a jewellery designer.