The smart exterior of Colin Byrne and Orla Killoran’s contemporary restaurant just off Arklow's main street is sure to draw your eye, especially in fine summer weather, when an inviting outside seating area is set up for outdoor dining. And then, once inside and in the care of the friendly and well informed waiting staff (working under the watchful eye of restaurant manager Balachander Achari), you’ll be well on the way to becoming a regular customer.
Lots of fresh flowers provide a welcome that never goes out of style, and the chic cared-for surroundings create just the right setting for reading mouth-watering menus that have a sense of the locality. And it’s easy to see why, when you learn the pedigree of this husband and wife team.
Colin, a former Head Chef at Marlfield House, also worked closely with two of the Guide’s most admired chefs, Paul Flynn of The Tannery andand Henry Stone of Sha-Roe Bistro - and, with such a background, you know that you may expect impeccable food sourcing and a simple yet deeply satisfying cooking style, based on classical training. And the other half of the kitchen team, Ballymaloe-trained Orla Killoran, shares the same philosophy so, whether popping in for a quick daytime bite or the full evening dining experience, you can be sure there will be a treat in store.
The day starts early at The Park, with a breakfast menu offering everything from organic porridge or the house rendition of the Full Irish, to freshly baked scones and house preserves with cream, plus a drinks menu that includes aromatic Illy coffee.
An all-day lunch menu offers a great range of dishes, including man-sized choices for the very hungry, like local butcher Larry Byrne’s 9oz sirloin or crispy fish&chips, but also some very tempting home baking. The house chowder is exceptional - with a couple of large scallops and some smoked haddock lurking in the depths, it may be unorthodox but it’s very, very good; a large bowl served with home-baked bread is worth breaking a journey for - and, unusually, the gluten-free option is excellent too. There’s also a short children’s menu, offering homemade versions of favourite dishes, and small portions from the main menu.
In the evening, everything notches up a few gears, when short and very appealing seasonal early bird and à la carte menus come into play. Ardsallagh goats cheese (from near Cork city) may be served with fashionable pickled beetroot (prepared in-house), and main courses could well include local Wicklow venison from Glenmalure - cooked two ways, perhaps, giving the experience of slow cooked shank as well as succulent pan-fried loin; and, unlike many restaurants where the focus is almost exclusively on the main ingredient plus a few swirls and blobs, the intensely flavoured accompaniments - in this case possibly buttered Savoy cabbage with cranberry & apple reduction - are always especially enjoyable.
Desserts may be hard to pass (in fairness, who could resist a warm Belgian chocolate and raspberry pudding with whipped cream?) but Hempenstall’s Wicklow Farmhouse Cheese Plate has been a special feature of this menu from the time they opened in 2008, and it’s well worth trying.
The wine list is short, well selected and well priced, with house wines at around €20.00, and a couple of half bottles offered; also some beer (but not Irish craft beers).
The Park is a huge asset to the Wicklow/Wexford area: a terrific destination – and always worth a journey.