Overlooking the picturesque fishing village of Duncannon, Aldridge Lodge is a modern stone-fronted dormer house with lovely views of the beach and mountains. It was our Newcomer of the Year in 2006 and, since then, Euro-Toques chef Billy Whitty and his partner Joanne Harding have earned such a well-deserved reputation for excellent food and warm hospitality that many regular guests make a point of heading straight here when visiting the South-East.
The restaurant is bright and airy, with patio doors out onto a deck area, tables smartly set up with white linen runners and comfortable high backed leather chairs.
Like fellow members of Euro-Toques, Billy is committed to sourcing the best produce as locally as possible – and no wonder in his case as, alongside the many other trusted suppliers listed, you will find several members of his family: the Duncannon crab and lobster are supplied by Billy’s father, Tommy; free range pork is supplied by his sister, Wendy, and her husband Scott; and Billy and Joanne produce their own vegetables as much as possible, in their garden and poyltunnel. Food doesn’t get much more local than that, and they offer their own homemade breads for sale too.
Fine modern Irish cooking is Billy’s niche and he is a gifted chef, who continues to develop his style and expertise. And to give outstanding value: in addition to a well-priced daily-changing dinner menu offering six or eight appealing dishes on each course, he offers a six-course tasting menu (for entire tables), which is available midweek and on Sunfays, and a snip at €35.
Given the restaurant’s location, the many delightful dishes on both menus have an understandable emphasis on seafood, notably Tommy’s crab and lobster in season, which only have to come up the road from Duncannon harbour, and also Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East where a wide variety of catches is landed all year.
Billy’s culinary skill is obvious and he is an exceptionally expert seafood chef; his ability to combine flavours and textures is a constant source of delight, his timing is perfect – and it’s highly unlikely that you would need to adjust the seasoning of any dish. Seafood dishes which have especially impressed on recent visits include a seafood and tomato bisque with roasted spiced nuts, and a main course centre cut of hake, pan fried and served with two fat scallops (with roe!), steamed mussels and crab claws in a light wine and cream sauce: superb!
But the choice is wide and you are likely to find several poultry dishes (including quail and duck as well as free-range chicken), spring lamb or local beef, and some appealing vegetarian dishes. Wendy and Scott’s free range pork may sometimes be combined with seafood – in a starter of twice baked crispy pork belly with Hook Head lobster croquette and sweet potato purée, for example - and the lobster may also be offered as main course: grilled and served with confit garlic & lemon butter it is a real treat, and there is no supplement charged on the dinner menu.
Having lined up first class ingredients, Billy’s skill is not restricted to the main dishes, but all the smaller items - soups, breads and side vegetables - are lovely too, as are the garnishes. Nothing too fussy, but simple extras such as shredded dressed beetroot, crisp hot shredded carrot, baby leaves and embryonic shoots are fun, add to the flavour combinations and enhance the eye appeal.
To finish, you could have a selection of Irish farmhouse cheeses (served with home-made crackers) or one half a dozen desserts including a special of the evening. The simplest option is to try a tasting plate of desserts for one or two, which rounds off a meal here nicely.
The wine list, like everything else at Aldridge Lodge, offers good value, and service is caring and efficient. It really is a super destination and proves that a restaurant doesn’t have to be huge, or in a city, to entice diners with outstanding food.
Seats 32 (outdoors, 12; private room, 14); reservations required. Children welcome for early meals, but under 10s must leave the restaurant by 8.30. D Wed-Sat, 7-9.30, Sun 5.30-8.30. L by arrangement for groups of 10+. Tasting menu €35 midweek/ Sun, €40 Set D €40 on Sat; vegetarian menu available. SC discretionary. Closed Mon & Tue, 24-28 Dec, 3 weeks in Jan.
Three well-appointed bedrooms (one with full bath and shower, the others with shower only) are quiet and comfortable, with a residents lounge area on the landing. An excellent breakfast usually includes fresh fish and, for special occasions, a ‘Prosecco Breakfast’ (including 2 glasses of Prosecco per person) is offered to groups of 8 or more up to 12 noon, by reservation. This could be a hard place to leave.