Crostini at The Loft
Pat Lalor is the chef at The Loft and his motto is "when food is simple it can be spectacular". Pat has a long and distinguished history, and was most recently head chef at The Stonecutter in Aughrim which is no longer with us. Aughrim's loss is Arklow's gain however as the town desperately needs a restaurant which serves great food at prices that represent remarkable value for money. The Loft is this restaurant.
The Loft menu & wine list - small, but perfectly formed
The dining room is simply furnished with wooden tables and chairs, a stove in the centre of the room to keep things cosy, and great music adding some atmosphere. The sparseness makes the space a little echoey, but that's something that can easily be sorted out. I met an old friend there who immediately told me how good the bread was and confessed that she had eaten so much of it, she was worried about not eating the rest of her meal. I later saw an empty plate being cleared, so her fears were unfounded.
Bread. Lots of bread.
We were also given a plate of the bread when our orders were taken - beautiful brioche-like rolls and hunks of brown bread, both made by Pat, accompanied by good salted butter at room temperature and pesto oil. Once I started, I knew what my friend meant and had to move the plate across the table to avoid carb overload.
Crostini & Prawns
Shortly afterwards, our starters arrived : I had the Crostini - toasted slices of foccacia with semi-sundried tomato paste, fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella with balsalmic dressed salad. The Hubs surprised me by choosing the Tiger Prawn Provencale - pan fried tiger prawns with garlic, diced tomato & wilted baby spinach. Both were presented beautifully and some swapping of dishes began "I'll swap you three prawns for one piece of crostini..."
Chicken & Hake
Plates cleared, it was time for our mains. The Loft has superb steak from Ballyshonogue Farm in Tinahely which I understand is sublime. I was taken by the Hake supplied by Kish Fish. This was oven roasted with a caper butter sauce and mash. It was cold outside & this was perfect comfort food - the hake was tender and perfectly cooked, the capers added some bite to the buttery sauce and the mash was creamy and delicious. I described it to my sister today as "Nanny's mashed potato" and she understood immediately what I meant - it's how we quantify perfect mash. The Hubs chose the Chicken with organic Kale, Leeks & bacon with a tarragon cream. To be honest, I was lucky to get any of this to sample, as he wasn't in sharing mood. It was a fantastically executed dish and the side dish of carrots & broccoli were cooked perfectly - lightly steamed, tossed in butter and not the horrendous usual flyblown kidney dish of mush which restaurants still insist on churning out.
Brownie & Sticky Toffee Pudding
Eventually, we decided it was dessert time and started negotiating the menu once again. The Hubs got his order in first (such a gent...) and ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding while I got my chocolate fix from a Flourless Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Bean Icecream. They were beautifully made with really good ingredients and we ended up swapping plates because both desserts were equally great. It will be my eternal regret that I couldn't finish mine - even more so as they were sent with the compliments of the chef & manager.*
We left The Loft sated and happy, surprised that a restaurant less than a month old can turn out such accomplished food at very reasonable prices. Our meal cost €67 for starters, mains, a bottle of wine & two pints of beer. The Loft is local, the food is local and the prices are very competitive - there's absolutely nothing to compare to it in Arklow. I firmly recommend that you should pay it a visit before you have to book a table in advance.
The Loft, 56 Main Street, Arklow, Co. Wicklow. Tel 0402 41418
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* They are currently waiting for their credit card machine, so no Visa or Laser, but there's an ATM across the road