With its weekly farmers’ market (one of Ireland’s best) and an enviable range of shops and restaurants catering to all tastes, Midleton has become a favourite destination for food lovers - a growing number of whom have been beating a path through the gated archway off the long main street that leads to The Courtyard and then to chef Kevin Aherne’s interesting restaurant which, although in a beautifully renovated stone building (and influenced by the best of traditional values), is modern through and through.
Easy to spot from the entrance, with its lovely big arched windows and green paintwork, the décor is contemporary – wooden floors, glass-topped tables, black leather seating – and three walls are painted pale green, echoing the exterior theme, with matching curtains hanging at the French doors leading to the outdoor seating.
Star of the show is Kevin Aherne himself who, while busy working in the open kitchen, also takes time to chat to customers as they lean in to watch as he transforms the wonderful ingredients of the area into beautiful, appetising - and unusual - dishes.
Information on the website and menus explains the restaurant’s commendable philosophy and fully credits all suppliers - more than credits them, in fact, as Kevin draws them right into the menu structure, especially in the 12 Mile Sunday lunch menus that have caught the imagination of both foodies and the general public of late.
All menus offered are proudly local, but Sunday lunch is very specific - with the exception of flour, butter, salt and pepper, all the produce used is grown, reared and produced within a 12 mile radius of the restaurant. Kevin also sources produce from the Midleton Farmers’ Market and, in another inspired move towards connectedness, runs a Market Menu every Saturday lunchtime.
Like all the best things, Sage Restaurant has evolved slowly as Kevin has applied the ‘eat local’ ethos and developed the impressive network of suppliers that he can call on today - and that list keeps growing. So too does the list of craft beers on offer, with O’Hara’s, Dungarvan Brewing Company, West Kerry Brewery and Longueville House Cider among them - and recent additions include the gluten-free beer, Sierra Nevada IPA, and Madden’s Armagh Cider.
But, while local produce is the beating heart of this restaurant, there’s also an awareness of the restrictive realities of life and Sage seeks to ease these with, for example, giving vegetarian and coeliac options of many dishes - and by offering great value. All menus offer good value for money, but the two/three course Early Bird is outstanding at €20/€25.
Popular with shoppers in this busy town during the week, Sage is also a destination for discerning diners at the weekend. Its reputation has spread well beyond the immediate area, and it is well deserved.