Ireland on Sunday - May 2006

Taste the good life in Wicklow

The first rule of impulsive weekend breaks? Book weeks, if not months in advance. I know, it ruins the surprise-but it’s crucial if you don’t want to be fleeced by last-option B&B's that live off Americans who don’t know better. After a lacklustre night at said B&B near Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, we took the advice of numerous colleagues and headed for Ireland’s only fully certified organic restaurant, The Strawberry Tree at Brooklodge Hotel near Avoca.

Except, there again, no room – unless you’re staying at the hotel, which was fully booked anyway. Crestfallen, we loitered at the fire in the stone-flagged foyer, petting Rudi the over-petted golden retriever when, by some twist, it was announced that actually there was room at the inn. Joy!

The hotel and gleaming new spa sit next to a brook running through the Macreddin Village development which has a bakery, brewery, pub, shops, stables and even a chapel. Our room in The River Mews, separate to the main hotel, was simple and elegant in white against dark wood, looking out onto snooker-table green lawns, a crystal –clear babbling brook with darting little fish, and gorse bushes exploding into yellow. The bathroom was Victorian in style with black and white tiles, reassuringly luxurious French toiletries and even a pull-chain cistern.

Which is all surplus to the main reason we were there – the food. The restaurant’s ambience alone is almost worth the trip, with blue velvet, gilt-edged mirrors and candlelight playing romantically off the mirrored ceiling.

The menu – printed, of course, on recycled paper – states it is "illegal to store, prepare or serve conventional food stuffs at this restaurant." This means every single ingredient has to be fully certifiably organic – an Olympian task. And our four courses for €60 were anything but conventional. I chose St Tola goat’s cheese with roasted peppers and walnut oil, followed by a yoghurt and chilli sorbet and roasted beef fillet with Portobello mushrooms and gorgonzola cream.

My vegetarian companion went for grilled asparagus with poached egg and mustard hollandaise, butternut squash risotto with wild garlic, and a sinful chocolate plate. Organic food is meant to taste better than ‘regular’ food – and indeed, every dish here was delicious yet straightforward. Honest-to-goodness asymmetrical chunks of food, instead of hip new eatery balancing tricks.

Service was efficient and attentive, yet not above a happy birthday song for the family celebration a few tables away. I suggest you plan well ahead for this one.