Behind a traditional flower-decked pub frontage proudly proclaiming its establishment in 1838 lies a very modern hybrid, combining the qualities of the classic Irish bar with something altogether different - and it's all to do with good food.
When brothers-in-law Paul Lenehan and Ronan Kinsella opened Hartes Bar & Grill in 2009, they wanted to create a place where 'service, quality, value for money and consistency' were the hallmarks and, thanks to their hard work and a talented chef who shares their vision, they have succeeded in making this well-run bar in Kildare town centre a key dining destination.
Inside it's a pleasant combination of old and new, with smiling staff greeting customers arriving into the traditional bar (welcoming open fire, flat screen TV and horse racing memorabile on the walls), and smart tables comfortably set up simply but invitingly for eating.
Whether it’s the daytime bar menu, Sunday lunch or the more ambitious evening menu, the range and quality of dishes offered by head chef Barry Liscombe is leagues ahead of the average Irish pub. His menus are peppered with great Irish produce - Goatsbridge smoked trout, Ardsallagh goats cheese, Clare Island salmon, Silverhill duck...
Every delicious-sounding dish offered shows real interest and care, and that’s even before you notice the reassuring statement about using sustainable fish and Bord Bia approved meats and poultry - and a note that ‘all stocks, sauces, breads and desserts are made in house and we support the use of Irish artisan and small farm suppliers’, all underlining their strong food philosophy.
The daytime menu is quite extensive, but not at the cost of quality - homemade soups for example (including a ‘Clogherhead chowder’) come with home baked sordough bread. In the evening (and at Sunday lunch) the main event here is ‘steak on a stone’ for cooking your own steaks on a fiercely hot stone (440ºC) at the table but, while this undoubtedly adds fun and theatre to a meal out, it would be a pity to miss Barry Liscombe’s excellent cooking.
Everything, including the vegetarian choices, seems equally appealing - and, along with coeliac friendly, vegetarian and lactose free options, you’ll find Paul’s favourites highlighted too!
Standout dishes to look out for include an excellent starter of scallop with chorizo, basil crumb and vanilla & rapeseed oil mayonnaise; presented on black slate, garnished with pea shoots, this beautifully cooked trio of scallops looks lovely and tastes even better.
Of the main courses, a stunning duck dish is well worth travelling for, just for the garnish alone. The main item - a wonderful Silverhill duck breast, perfectly cooked medium rare - is itself a very attractive dish, pleasingly accompanied by sweet potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli; but the garnish of confit leg of duck Wellington, with its crisp pastry, flavoursome juicy leg meat and perfect seasoning, is a masterpiece.
Desserts will please everyone who likes a good chocolate fix to round off a meal, but there are other tempting choices too, perhaps including a seriously delicious pear, toffee & hazelnut crumble, with whiskey soaked sultanas and homemade vanilla icea cream...and, for the indecisive, there’s a dessert platter for two.
Everything is appetisingly served on black slate or white plates of various shapes, with great attention to detail, specially colour combinations. Service is good too - smartly groomed young staff are well versed in the menu dishes, regularly check back with customers and serve wine correctly.
A small wine list of 7 reds and 6 whites has tasting notes and offers several by glass (€5.00/ 6.96); there’s also a good cocktail list - but the highlight is a lovely list of Irish artisan and world beers.
All round this is a great dining destination, offering excellent cooking in a relaxed yet professional ambience - and the commitment to support Irish producers is commendable.