Story by Norma Davidoff
Photography courtesy of Brook Lodge
Ivy-covered country house comfort, non-organic food illegal, and chickens parading among guests: all this is part of what once was a rural village, now resurrected. It’s Brook Lodge in Macreddin Village, in the rustic wilds of County Wicklow, Ireland, just an hour from Dublin. One feels plunked into a country village, right down to the sweet smell of freshly mown grass.
The owners have taken a village, basically abandoned, and created new quarters that look old, along with stables, a highly-rated golf course, intriguing shops, and restaurants of charm and character.
Brook Lodge houses the Strawberry Tree Restaurant, famous throughout Ireland and celebrating its 25th anniversary shortly. It moved here when the revitalized village opened about 12 years ago. Strawberry Tree is the only truly certified organic restaurant in the country, according to partner-owner Evan Doyle. A straightforward, solemnly worded sign notes that non-organic food must not be brought onto the organic-certified premises! (Irish law forbids it.)
The restaurant’s cuisine boasts intriguing foods foraged from the nearby woods. Wild garlic pesto is just one of the spoils from country walks by the kitchen staff. The lodge takes this so seriously, it employs a full time forager.
The night we dined there, we began with home-made bread and that garlic pesto. My appetizer for our five-course meal was salmon tartare with a warm hollandaise sauce. It was topped with a bright yellow nasturtium and an edible leaf called wild fat hen, freshly picked by the forager. Give me some fat hen anytime! My husband started with a creamy mound of locally sourced goat cheese, served with biscuits. Next, cantaloupe with a salad of sprouts and salty pancetta, the sweet ripeness of the melon accented with toasted almonds.
I decided to go with an 8-ounce rib-eye steak topped with ever-so-healthy kale; my husband dived into a generous portion of wild salmon. It’s Ireland. That means honest food and hearty portions. A bevy of extra vegetables could have been a meal in itself. Broccoli came enlivened with chopped sun-dried tomatoes, almonds, sunflower seeds, and bread crumbs. Heaven on a plate!
By this time, I was pleading with the waiter for a light dessert, and went with the honey ice cream parfait with poached apricots. The wedges of ice cream, bits of honeycomb inside, balanced the apricots peeking out from below. It went down as softly as a dream.
My husband ended with a selection of raw milk Irish cheeses and fruit. Service was friendly, not officious. Classical music played throughout, while we looked out onto the Village Green now darkened by nightfall.
Then it was off to the pantry to meet with chef/partner Evan Doyle. A pig’s foot and hind-quarter was on display in the little chill room, whose shelves bulged with evocative products. How about 140 kilos of wild ceps, elderflower champagne, angelica? We saw foods preserved by drying or dousing in vinegar or alcohol. Evan believes in salting, drying, and curing; he avoids freezing and preserving. As the seasons change, new produce rotates in. Local farmers supply whole lambs and other meats; a Mr. Mc Murphy catches salmon in the nearby River Nore. Strawberries are “captured” at the height of the season. Doyle likes to joke that the Lodge has a kitchen staff of 17 chefs and one cook -- he’s the cook.
If you’re staying for a few days, try another restaurant, with a gentler price tag: La Taverna Armento. Its white walls, dark furniture, and grapevines hugging the outdoor trellis “say” Italy. Indeed, it is copied from a restaurant in Armento, Italy. Photos of the town decorate the walls. People from Armento -- even its mayor -- came to Ireland for the restaurant’s opening.
Warmth and coziness pervade Brook Lodge. It has everything you want without being big and impersonal. Our room was much like a loft apartment. On the first level was a sleek couch, a large screen TV, and ready access to a computer, all combined with comfortable furniture. Upstairs a large bed and an enticing Jacuzzi were awaiting us.
Brook Lodge has borrowed country house charm, and married it to a sparkling spa in shades of blue. Brook Lodge’s Wells Spa boasts an indoor-outdoor pool in dazzling gradations of blue, from marine to aqua. God is in the details here. I couldn’t help but be delighted with heated chaises, made of tiles, or the small blue lights in the spa’s tile floor. The spa area is so quiet and soothing; you may feel better without signing up for a treatment. But if you do, you are in “good hands.” As I had hurt my leg, my masseuse was especially careful. One of the staff walked me back to my room to make sure I was okay. That’s going some! Although we didn’t meet all 130 people employed here, the ones we did meet had sunny personalities, and were helpfully attentive. We felt totally at home.
Golfers can play the 18-hole course, designed by Ryder Cup champion Paul McGinley, plus other courses in County Wicklow, a vacation mecca that can be delightfully rural. The Lodge also has a riding stable and access to 1500 acres of land for hiking.
Great for families and just relaxing, this little community lends itself to another facet of resort life. Brook Lodge has won many awards, including kudos as the Best Business Hotel in Ireland. Its facilities for corporate meetings, incentive programs, and product launches come highly praised. That part of Macreddin Village has its own hotel rooms and meeting rooms, called Brook Hall, a 5-minute walk from the Village Green buildings. They seem to have thought of everything here, including wide doors, so cars can be brought in and put on display.
This cluster includes a large dining hall with French windows. Beyond is a long veranda, looking out onto Ballycreen Brook, babbling away. The lodge offers 24 en-suite bedrooms. This part of the property, much like the rest, is peaceful enough for a corporate retreat or a romantic one. The setting so lovely, the vibe so pitch perfect, we thought about renewing our vows right there. Hey, how about it? Brook Lodge hosts well over 125 weddings a year.
A chapel on the other side of the brook is used for weddings, too. But many are the nights when it’s taken over by concerts. Fat Boy Slim and Hazel O’Connor have performed here.
Owners Owen and Evan Doyle keep adding to the property and to the excitement there. Take the Food Hub -- the first Sunday of the month, Brook Lodge offers a Wild Food Market, with produce from local growers. That day the staff teaches how to forage, make cheese, and cure meats. There’s plenty to savor, like organic pig on a spit and Prosecco, organic, of course. Brook Lodge just keeps getting greener, and for Ireland that’s really saying something.
© December 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.