Northern Lights and delights

After a very long hiatus – I am back blogging! Hopefully will be back blogging on a more regular basis too! I recently took a trip northwards to Cavan and its neighbour Fermanagh…of co…

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Northern Lights and delights

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After a very long hiatus – I am back blogging! Hopefully will be back blogging on a more regular basis too!

I recently took a trip northwards to Cavan and its neighbour Fermanagh…of course for foodie reasons.

Talk about Cavan to any foodie in Ireland and they will mention the name of Neven Maguire one of Ireland’s top chefs from MacNean house. This was my first stop!

Firstly I should say that my friend and I booked this trip approx. 6 months ago so it was a long time coming and such is the popularity of the restaurant that these kind of pre-booking periods are required!

Following his graduation from college Neven worked in many Michelin star restaurants in Europe perfecting his craft. Macneans’ was a family enterprise and Neven took over as Head Chef and proprietor in 2003

On arrival we checked into our lovely room as we were staying for the night. (Picture is of double room – we stayed in a twin bedded room for €77 per person bed and breakfast).

When we were ready for dinner we made our way downstairs to the lounge area for a pre-dinner drink and were met again by more of Neven’s fabulous staff.  A great idea too that we got to pre-order our meal here so that was all done by the time we took our table in the exquisite dining room.

Macnean bar

Also like the way that you can mix and match between the regular tasting menu and the vegetarian option too. I’m not a veggie but all the veggies dishes looked particularly amazing – not that the other menu wasn’t – it absolutely was!

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After dinner we retired again to the lounge area and we got to meet with Neven.  This is a nice feature of MacNean that he comes out and talks to diners, a really nice touch. I’ve met Neven a couple of times and always impressed that he remembers faces, he must meet so many people. Being in the tourism business myself I was delighted to see that he recently won an award from the RAI for services to tourism! Love to see the image of Irish Food being raised and raised – not so long ago the perceptions of our food wasn’t that good but now it is thanks to the likes of Neven and others.

Some images of our dinner below

After a great night’s sleep we were down in the restaurant for yet more food – what better way to start the day than with some porridge with Irish mist! It was beautiful. Plentiful coffee, bread, pastries, fruits were also on offer.

Also worth remembering Neven’s amazing cooking school – I have been lucky enough to have attended one of his classes there before. I have been to many many cooking classes but his was by far the best I ever attended, hands down!  I hope to go back again someday!

*Note – we paid €77 per person for the accommodation and dinner was €85 per person. Wine matching option also available.

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After leaving MacNean*, we travelled over the border to Northern Ireland and the county of Fermanagh. We made a little detour to Belleek Pottery to have a wee look there and then headed to Belle Isle Estate – our home for the night.  Belle Isle is a stunning Irish Castle set on its own Private Island on Lough Erne! Situated on the northern tip of Upper Lough Erne, Belle Isle is a 470 – acre estate spread over eight picturesque islands.

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Belle Isle Estate

Belle Isle Estate has been a designated a Special Area of Conservation and the Award Winning Castle is a fantastic 17thCentury Country House offering lake views.

Belle Isle Castle’s guest bedrooms are as unique as its guests, each with its own unique style and personality. From the Ivy Room in The Hamilton Wing, with its four poster bed and antique furniture to the luxurious Bridal Suite in The Abercorn Wing with its opulent décor and stunning lake views……

The castle has been extensively yet sensitively refurbished, ensuring that a full range of modern facilities blends seamlessly with original period grandeur.

It also has some beautiful and charming self-catering cottages and a cooking school!

After we checked into our lovely two bedroomed cottage we went to the school for a lesson with the chef there Joe Kelly.

 

Joe has been a professional chef for over 20 years and a tutor at Belle Isle since 2005.  Joe began his culinary career while growing up in America. He was formally trained in South Beach, Miami and San Francisco, California. In 2005 he returned home to Northern Ireland to start a family with his wife Jennifer.  Joe has co- authored two cookbooks and also appeared on Channel 4’s Iron Chef and RTE’s Nationwide.

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Chef Joe works closely with local Northern Ireland producers and growers to ensure that quality is always at the forefront of his food.

In the lovely relaxed atmosphere of the school we were taught how to make a deliciously fresh chowder and what better to serve it with than some Irish brown bread and butter.

Truly a great experience and one I would highly recommend if you’re looking for a culinary experience in Northern Ireland!

All in all Belle Isle is an exciting place with lots of future development plans – I will definitely be watching this one for sure and will recommend to any of our clients looking for private castle rental.

While there isn’t a restaurant on the estate at the moment – there are places closeby including the fabulous Lough Erne Resorts Catalina Restaurant where we dined that night.  Noel McNeel is the Executive Chef there and is also one of the chefs at the forefront of changing perceptions on Irish food. Exciting food offerings in Northern Ireland this year as always but brought more to the forefront with 2016 being their year of food. Special thanks to Annemarie in Belle Isle & Joe Kelly in the cooking school!

Go a bit further – discover the North West at its best!!!

 

 

 

 

Coming soon….

It’s been a busy couple of years in work hence I have been very quiet on the blog. Things getting more settled now and I am even more inspired to reactivate my Irish food blog so watch out for some updates soon to include recent visits to Macnean House in Cavan with the wonderful Neven Maguire, a stay in Lough Erne resort in Fermanagh with a dinner chosen for us by chef Noel McNeel and a visit to the fantastic Ballymaloe house and meeting with Rachel Allen.

Collage of chefs

Adare – the little jewel in the Lady of Limerick’s Crown

Adare Village

The little Jewel in the lady of Limerick’s Crown 

“Oh Sweet Adare, oh lovely vale, oh soft retreat of sylvan splendour” Gerald Griffin 1803-1840

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One of the famous thatched cottages in Adare Village

Long regarded as one of Ireland’s prettiest villages – Adare or Ath Dara (the ford of the oak) in Irish is situated on the River Meague, a tributary of The Shannon. Dating from the time of the Norman Conquest its been home to the Earls of Dunraven (Quin Family) for over three centuries.  Beautiful, unique thatched cottages line its broad street interspersed with ruins and buildings with local stonework.

Adare is an extremely historical town and was the site of many rebellions – for more on the history take a look at the villages website

Although Adare is a small village there is plenty to do here! For starters there are four historical places to visit.

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Desmond Castle, Adare

Desmond Castle dating from the 13th century is a fortified castle one of the few remaining examples of a Norman castle in Europe. Tours run here every day from the Adare Heritage centre and the tour takes approx. one hour after which you get dropped back to the heritage centre (on a side note The Heritage Centre is great – everything you need here, information, shops, restrooms, café/restaurant and an interesting exhibition on Adare – thanks to Sandra at the desk for her help the day I was there!).  The Castle tour is very interesting and well worth it. Kids will enjoy it too. There is a recreated door to the castle which has to be opened with a great big key and they love that. Inside you get to walk around and imagine yourself in the great hall at a banquet or in the kitchen cooking or even worse if you’ve done something bad – in the dungeon!  Incidentally there was a banquet held in the grounds of the castle very recently to celebrate The Gathering – take a look here

Then there is The Augustinian Friary, The Trinitarian Abbey and the Franciscan Friary.  There are many restaurants and cafes and gift shops. If you fancy a little shopping Adare is a little mecca of beautiful boutiques, only wish I’d had more time to go and have a look at them all!

Accommodation wise you have three hotels in Adare – Adare Manor, Dunraven Arms Hotel and Woodlands house hotel and there are also a load of B&B’s too.

Adare Manor

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Adare Manor Exterior

For the ultimate in opulence – the 5* Adare Manor is the place to be!   Legend has it that in the 1830’s the second Earl of Dunraven was riddled with gout and as a distraction from this took on the job of replacing the house.

The Dunravens intended that visitors would be spellbound by the building and would have to stop and look carefully at the building to see the significance of what they were looking at.  The house was constructed in essence as a calendar house in that it has 365 stained windows, and 52 chimneys to signify the days and weeks of the year.  During the construction many local workers (for whom the thatched cottages were built by their employer) found work in the Manor and thus were saved from the ravages of the famine that was occurring in that period.  There is a huge gothic influence inside with many gargoyles about! I think they succeeded, as the buiding takes your breath away once you get to the top of the long drive and lay eyes on it!

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Bathroom in one of the State rooms in Adare Manor

The Manor is vast in every way. The grounds are beautifully manicured with beautiful gardens including a walled garden. There is an 18 hole golf course set in wonderful scenery with tree lined fairways and challenging greens. For some pampering you must go to the beautiful Lavendar Cottage  and take some time out for a luxurious Darphin treatment.

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State Room in Adare Manor

In addition the Manor can arrange many more activities such as Falcony. Horse-riding and fishing to name but a few. If you like they will also prepare a picnic basket for you to bring with you as you explore the grounds.   Newly added is their Fairy trail for the kiddies – something sure to keep them busy for a little bit as they follow the trail and try to find the fairies houses. There is easy access from the village to the Manor, the concierge will drop you down to the gate if you wish and then coming back you have a code to get into the grounds and then either walk back or call the front desk and they’ll pick you up!I stayed in a State room in the Manor which was a treat. The room was really big with dark luxurious wooden fixtures on the bed, dressing table and probably THE biggest bathroom that I have ever seen! I think it might be bigger than my apartments living area. After attending a Garden party at the Manor, a walk down the down and dinner in 1826 Adare, I had a great sleep. It was so blissfully quiet, a total change to my Dublin apartment!

For dinner in the Manor you have many options including the beautiful romantic Oak room (I recently had clients from the USA there and at dinner in the Oak room, a wedding proposal was made!), the more informal bistro type Carraige Room and should you feel like a more private meal there is the option for inroom dining too.

Breakfast in the Oak Room was a lavish affair too with a wide selection to choose from. I opted for the pancakes, an occasional treat I allow myself when staying in hotels.

All in all a true 5* experience in Adare Manor!

 

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1826 Adare

On this particular occassion, I walked down to the village and I ate in 1826 Adare.  Owned by Chef Wade Murphy and his wife Elaine, its only just been open a few months and already has a great reputation. I’d eaten in the previous hotel Wade worked at and attended a Seven course tasting menu he did for an event there and was really impressed.  1826 prides itself on quality Irish food and is a modern but casual dining Irish experience.

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My Crab starter in 1826 Adare

I had a beautiful Crab starter with a tomato gazpacho and the Cod for main course. The cod was so tasty and Wade explained to me that he salts it for about an hour or so to take out the moisture and it holds its shape really well which I had noticed when it was served to me….thought that I was done after that but saw that there was a sticky toffee pudding on the desserts menu and its one of my favourites.  This is Wades Grannies recipe and definitely one of the best I’d tasted!

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My cod dish in 1826

Dunraven Arms Hotel

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Dunraven Hotel Exterior

4* Luxury with old world charm is an apt description for The Dunraven Arms hotel part of the Manor House Hotel Group . With a prominent position in Adare Village you can’t help but notice this quaint hotel. With its lovely gardens and Ivy clad walls it’s just asking you to come in and have a look.   From the moment you walk in the door you feel welcome and relaxed and in a strange way at home!  Originally a coaching inn on the estate of the Earl of Dunraven the hotel now boasts 86 bedrooms, The Hunters bar, The Maigue Restaurant, and a separate conference centre and health and leisure facilities.

Family owned and run by Hugh and Louis Murphy the hotel is one of Ireland’s best loved country houses.

room junior 01 room std room suite 01The luxurious bedrooms are individually styled with period fabrics and furnishings- the 6 suites and 24 junior suites also boast authentic antique four poster and canopied beds.  With the suites having a separate living area you really get the feeling of being at home.  The award winning Maigue restaurant has a wide ranging menu with a focus on the Irish classics with a modern twist. They are well known and indeed famous for their roast beef and baked Limerick Ham carved from the trolley and have won all Ireland best breakfast awards.

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Staff from the Dunraven Arms Hotel

The health and leisure centre has a 17m swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and gym and provides classes such as Yoga and aqua aerobics. Guests may also partake in bit of pampering with an in-house specialist in The Beauty Rooms.

The owners are keen horsemen and can arrange hunting, cross country riding or racing at Limerick Racecourse for guests.

Of course you can also just sit back and relax and enjoy!  Definitely one I want to go back to!

Fitzgerald’s Woodlands House Hotel

I’d been in Fitzgerald’s Woodlands house before but quite a few years ago. I’d had a great time then and always had a nice memory of the hotel and in particular how friendly and welcome everyone in the hotel was. I’m happy to say that nothing has changed!

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Bedroom in Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel

Celebrating 30 years in business this year this family owned hotel run by Mary, David and Elaina Fitzgerald is the epitome of an Irish family hotel and is a member of Irish Country Hotels

Having the opportunity to go back and stay in the hotel I jumped at the chance.  They’d made some changes in the intervening years and I was interested to see what they’d done.  There is a big open lobby space which has changed a lot since I was there last and now has a lovely new colour scheme.  Fitzy’s bar has also changed but retains the local, warm, welcoming feel and has a mix of tourists and locals as their customers.

The hotel is in the process of upgrading rooms and already has a good number of them done. I loved the colour scheme in the room that I was allocated. Their rooms are really big and if you are bringing kids, they have suites with double room and a room with twin beds as part of the room. The rooms were really bright with lots of sunlight streaming in.

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Timmy Macs

And so to Timmy Macs, their bistro style restaurant. It’s even better now. With a lighter colour scheme than before it’s much fresher and is open practically all day it seems. Its super child friendly too so if you’re bringing kids here you can totally relax. We ate lunch here – one thing I’d forgotten was the portions in this place have always been big!! They now also have an outdoor seating area which was well in use the day I was there as it was a rare hot summer Irish day.

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After our refreshments we returned to our room to prepare for our trip to the Reva’s Spa for our Rasul Mud treatment. The spa wasn’t there the last time I was in the hotel so I really wanted to see this. After changing into our robes and slippers which were thoughtfully left in our room we went down to the spa.  All I could think was Wow! It’s huge! I didn’t expect it to be quite so big. The staff in the spa, like the hotel staff are extremely welcoming and attentive. Michelle brought us into the Rasul Mud chamber and explained to us the process.

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Afternoon tea is also available in Reva’s Spa

We were left then as we prepared ourselves with scrubs (a heavenly chocolate orange one that smelled good enough to eat!) and then a chocolate mud scrub.  Suitably relaxed after this experience we were escorted to the thermal suite which comprised Sauna, steam room, foot salt scrub, and exotic shower experiences.  There was also an outdoor hot tub which we did partake in and it was a pleasure to do so outdoors on a hot day. Felt like I was in a different country.  We also lay in the relaxation area outdoors and enjoyed our smoothie and fruit skewers. A totally and utterly relaxing experience and one I would recommend you treat yourself to if staying in the hotel.

Although I wanted to go and sleep after the experience, I resisted the temptation and went back to the room and prepared for dinner. Fielding’s of Adare is a new addition to the hotel, a cool quiet and intimate dining space in which to enjoy the best of local Limerick produce.

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Fieldings of Adare – the hotels superb new restaurant

With a philosophy of working with seasonal ingredients the menu offers a wide choice to suit all tastes.

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Dinner in Fieldings of Adare

Being just a tad obsessed with Crab at the moment I went for another crab starter as did my friend – this time crab mousse wrapped with smoked salmon and served on a bed of leaves.  I again went for fish and had the Hake while my friend went for the chicken rolls with Asparagus.  We both went for the warm chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert and it was soft and light and delicious.  Service was fantastic and quick and I should say the breads that they serve while waiting on your starter to arrive were particularly good! A fabulous addition to the hotel offering guests now the option of a more formal dining experience.

Breakfast on Sunday was in Timmy Macs and while I have to admit I’m not much of a breakfast person – I did appreciate the amount of food on offer. I don’t really do the “ full  Irish” ever but there was a great selection of cereals, fruits, breads, hot food and if you liked poached eggs, kippers etc. on request.

Fed and watered we reluctantly left and headed down to the village before continuing on to Dublin. I can’t wait to go back to Woodlands House!

Adare is a little Irish treausre – definitely put it on your list as a must see place!

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Shot I took of the park in Adare Village

 My thanks to all the hotels involved for their assistance with this blog. I was a guest of both Adare Manor and Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel. All of these hotels can be booked as part of any tour available on http://www.authenticireland.com

 

 

Out for dinner…Whitefriar Grill, Anglers Rest and something special!

Out for dinner… Dublin and then something really special in Clare… read on!

Whitefriar Grill & The Anglers Rest, Chapelizod.

Finally a chance to update you on some recent restaurant visits and recommendations for you!

Whitefriar Grill, Aungier Street, Dublin 2

A few of the girls from work and myself were attending a recent charity function in the city and decided to take ourselves off to dinner beforehand as a treat for ourselves as we’d been so busy lately. I’d heard a lot about Whitefriar Grill and told them about it so we decided to head in there.

Walking from the car park down to the restaurant it was hard not to notice all the changes that have happened from Camden Street down to Aungier street; so many new cafes and restaurants have opened there in the last years and its looking so much cooler as an area now. You’ll also find some great foodie shops along here like Fresh and Listons.

On to the restaurant, it was a Tuesday evening and we were in early at 6pm for the early sitting. It was naturally enough fairly quiet when we arrived bud didn’t stay that way for very long!

The interior is cool and trendy with exposes brickwork and lovely mirrors and little framed drinks menus on the walls. It’s long with an open kitchen at the end which is always a nice touch.

After a short time perusing the menu – we made our selections opting for just a main and dessert.

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I chose the roasted fillet of hake which was served with salsa verde on a bed of caponata and came with some home-made chips. Two of the girls went for the pulled pork sandwich which went down amazingly well and a week on they are still talking about it so it must have been something! The presentation looked pretty cool – served on a board with the pork between two pieces of flatbread and again with some home-made chips. Another colleague went for the burger from the main menu which looked equally as delicious and received rave reviews too.

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The Whitefriar Grill on Aungier Street

For deserts we had the warm chocolate brownie with ice cream, and one colleague had the selection of Ice cream and sorbets.

Service was quick and great here, nice selection of wines and beers too. Like the idea of the glasses of wine being available in small or large glass so if you only fancy a main with a small glass you can do that.

Really impressed with the food here was the general consensus of all of us and lots of comments after like “I must tell my friends about this place” and “definitely coming back here” so definitely a thumbs up!!

Anglers Rest, Strawberry Beds, Chapelizod, Dublin 20.

Just a 15-minute drive from Dublin City Centre, this landmark establishment in the seclusion of the Strawberry Beds – next door to the Phoenix Park – has a history that stretches far back as it was once the “main” road to Galway and as such one of the stops that people would use for water for their horses and maybe a drop of something else too! Apparently they also have a ghost or two there. It’s long been considered the favourite watering hole of anglers fishing along the banks of the adjacent River Liffey. Extensive car parking adds to the attraction, especially for tour groups.

Arriving here on a very warm Saturday evening my sister and I were greeted by the sight of many people eating outside the Bar/Restaurant enjoying the sunshine.

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We ate inside in the Salmon bar but not before having a tour of the building with Tom Walsh one of the managers in The Anglers. They have a stunning function room which would be perfect for weddings and birthday parties and other significant amounts and can cater for up to 120 up there. I absolutely loved the style of this place, old and traditional but not in the slighted bit twee. It’s very tastefully done. Its full of nooks and crannies filled with all kinds of lovely things. One of the nicest area’s is the Presidents Corner where they have the framed photos of all of Irelands Presidents; indeed our current president had just eaten in there that very week. I should mention that they are primarily a seafood restaurant (part of the Wrights of Howth Group) but do serve other dishes as well so you can be sure that there is something to suit all there!

So after our tour around we took our seat in the salmon bar. We ordered our bottle of Pinot Grigio and then decided on our orders. I had the citrus dressed crab for starters while my sister went for the Brie Croquette. My crab was delicious, delicate and not overpowered by the lemon. The brie too went down very well and was a lovely starter.

For my main course I had the roast fillet of Sea Bass which came with a black pudding mash which was amazing. My sister had the sirloin steak with homemade chips, onion rings and tarragon butter. All finished off too and declared as being fabulous.

There was a lovely selection of deserts including specials of the day but again here I went for the chocolate brownie with ice cream which was gorgeous. I love the hot/cold combination thing so this always wins for me. My sister went for the Vanilla bean apple crumble which was intriguingly served in a jam jar – a sort of deconstructed crumble if you like! Looked really cool and tasted great too.

Too warm to opt for any tea’s or coffee’s at the end we instead decided to take our last glass of wine at the bar. The Anglers has traditional music on every night of the week and ample parking so this place should be a must for tourists. It’s a little off the beaten track alright but doesn’t take too long to get to and its so worth it!

I’ll definitely be going back!

And finally – something reall special!!

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One of my most favourite places in Ireland and one that will always have a special place for me is Dromoland castle. Celebrating their 50th birthday this year, the hotel have had many ways to celebrate including the launch of their cookbook which I covered in an earlier blog The Kitchen in the Castle and now they have launched a 1963 Tasting menu to evoke the era in which this great hotel was born!

David McCann, Executive Head Chef and Tony Frisby, Restaurant Manager with some of the Restaurant Team at the launch of the Nostalgic Tasting Menu
David McCann, Executive Head Chef and Tony Frisby, Restaurant Manager with some of the Restaurant Team at the launch of the Nostalgic Tasting Menu

This is an eight course “Nostalgic Tasting Menu” accompanied by fine wine pairings has been specially created by Executive Chef, David McCann & Restaurant Manager, Tony Frisby. David has been leading the Kitchens in Dromoland since 1995. David’s style is based on a firm classical base, acquired from David’s training in some of London’s top establishments.

Speaking at the launch of the 50th Celebration “Nostalgic Tasting Menu” David McCann said:

“This nostalgic tasting menu project has been so much fun especially with my classical background and Tony’s experience. In 1963 some of the ingredients were not available in Ireland and were substituted to keep up with food fashions of that time. It’s nice to look back and reflect, we have just gone a step further, I do hope you can enjoy our interpretation of Dromoland’s 1963 menu fare”

The Menu was extensively researched by the team at Dromoland Castle which included searching through the menu archives of the hotel from the mid 1960’s. Whilst culinary fads have come and gone over the years, the style of cooking at 5 star level in 1963 was firmly classical but with modern influences starting to appear.

The Beatles at Dromoland Castle 1963
The Beatles at Dromoland Castle 1963

With such classics as Tournedo Rossini and Peach Melba this tasting menu is guaranteed to bring you on a culinary trip down memory lane!  Menu costs €80 or €100 with paired wines.

Definitely something to consider!

Thats all for now, back soon with more reviews on restaurants and places to visit in Ireland.

 

Bitesize..cooking in Clare, RAI Awards, Taste of Dublin!

So, the last few weeks have been insanely busy. I may have mentioned before that I’m an incoming tour operator so now we’re in the height of the season and things are crazy busy which is a good thing. In addition to work I have been doing blog related things so this one is going to be a big one – lots to catch up on, and lots in the pipeline so better to write about all these while they’re still somewhat fresh in the mind! Coming up today – Cooking lesson in Berry Lodge in Co. Clare, Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards and Taste of Dublin….

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Berry Lodge, Co Clare

Berry Lodge
In Ireland there are so many cooking schools- I would say probably more than average for a country of our size. Having been to many lessons in bigger more commercial schools, I was interested in trying something on a smaller scale. I’ve seen this a lot in Italy where I go on vacation all the time; people go and learn to cook from the Nonna’s and the Mamma’s there so to me this is like coming to learn with an Irish Mammy!
I came across Berry Lodge through work as it’s also a B&B which we use for our clients who are staying overnight in Clare on their self-drive tours. Located just about 1km from Spanish point with stunning views over the sea I would highly recommend it. Rita Meade is the proprietor here and made my friend and I very welcome. We were in total a group of six, us two, a couple from Cork and the lovely Jack and Lynette from California.
After arriving a little too early we sat outside in the sun while Rita and her assistant prepared for the lesson. This was mainly a seafood lesson but we also made brown bread, a carrageen mousse, a panna cotta style dessert with butterscotch sauce. The fish dishes were Carrigaholt Crab Cakes, Salted Sea Bass, Oysters & Mussels. The panna cotta style dish was really unusual; instead of using gelatine we used carrageen moss, a sea vegetable which has a setting agent in it. I will put the photo and recipe for this on my Facebook page.

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The lesson was totally hands on and great fun with the added advantage that we all got to eat everything that we ate at the end of the lesson.The rooms in Berry Lodge B&B were absolutely lovely, very tastefully designed and with great views. With a nice outdoor decking area I could easily imagine myself here for a few days relaxation, some cooking, some walking and trips to the gorgeous beach at Spanish Point. Do check them out for both the lessons and for accommodation.  Highly recommended.

Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards.
I was really honoured to be invited as a blogger to attend this year’s restaurant association of Ireland awards. This is the association’s annual celebration of all that is good in Irish restaurants. Commencing with regional finals with some 2000 restaurants, the number is whittled down to the best in each region. It’s a huge event with 800 guests in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel, 58 awards to give out, a five course dinner, and final awards for the best chef in Ireland and the best restaurant in Ireland.

At my table some of the nominees were – The Happy Pear, nominated for best Digital Marketing, Aldridge Lodge nominated for best restaurant, Global Village in Dingle also nominated for best restaurant and La Bodega nominated for best wine experience. All worthy nominees but the winners of the night are our table were The Happy Pear. The Happy Pear is a natural food market based in Greystones just outside of Dublin and run by twin brothers Stephen and David Flynn. They grow and supply healthy foods, have an online shop and a cafe. Take a look at their website here

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Stephen and David from The Happy Pear with their award.

We had an amazing dinner featuring dishes from some of the nominated chefs. Here’s the menu

Opening course
Carrot Textures with crozier blue cheese white chocolate and hemp Seed
From: The Boathouse

Soup course
Tomato Pear and Gin Soup
From Aldridge Lodge Wexford

Fish Course
Hand picked crab meat salad with raw mango chutney, crab and corn samosa
With squid ink and chilli mayo
From Ananda Restaurant, Dundrum, Dublin

Main Course
Braised Irish Hereford prime beef cheek, truffle flavoured potato puree
Ox tongue salad, mushroom and fois gras crust
From The Europe Hotel and Resort, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Dessert Course
Lemon tart and fresh raspberry, bergamot marshmallow
Mandarin and Grand Marnier puree
From Mount Falcon Hotel and Resort

Safe to say we were quite full after all of this! A feat for the kitchen to get out all these meals to 800 people, we were all wondering what it was like backstage in the kitchen!

For a full list of all the winners and nominations on the night click here – might give you an idea of some places to visit when you’re coming to Ireland.

Best restaurant in Ireland award went to The Tannery in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford – a definite must go to when you’re here. Paul Flynn is the head chef here and a real champion of Irish food. I still remember a risotto I had from Paul before with grapes in it, it was so unusual but really amazing and lingered in the memory. Check them out, there is also a cooking school here so maybe book in for a lesson too?!

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Paul Flynn from The Tannery with his awards

Best chef in Ireland went to Sunil Ghai. Sunil heads up the chain of Jaipur restaurants and Ananda in Dundrum. He is the leading Indian chef in Ireland with a really impressive array of awards since his time in Ireland. Have to confess I haven’t been to Ananda so I have to rectify that very soon.

Since the crisis hit Ireland, various measures were put in place to try and help businesses one of which was reducing the VAT from 13.5% to 9%. This has helped the service industry hugely. Being a tour operator myself I know that this is very much on our minds as there is a possibility of it going back up next year. For Ireland, for tourism this would be a disaster and the hospitality industry is coming together to lobby the government to keep it at 9%. Adrian Cummins from that RAI is leading the restaurants on this front and they have released a video made with Irish celebrity chef Neven Maguire to emphasise why it should stay at 9%

Taste of Dublin
Taste of Dublin is an annual event held in Dublin city’s beautiful Iveagh Gardens. A four day event celebrating all that is good in the food scene in Ireland. Many of the best restaurants in Dublin have stands here and offer a sample of some of their signature dishes at the event. In addition to that there are celebrity chefs galore doing demonstrations such as Neven Maguire, Catherine Fulvio, Clodagh McKenna, Oliver Dunne and Ross Lewis to name but a few. Its an opportunity also to meet lots of  producers and taste samples of their produce. Its always a great day and if you’re blessed to be there on a sunny day its fantastic. There are many open areas to sit and relax, bands to listen to so you can just move around, taking a starter from one restaurant, your main course from another and dessert from another!

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Neven Maguire from Macnean House at his demonstration
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Clodagh’s demonstration included crab linguine and a beef tagliata.

On entering the park my friend and I took a Prosecco from the SO Prosecco stand; my friend a regular prosecco and for me the Raspberry Sparkle Prosecco which was lovely.

Our first stop was Clodagh’s kitchen who won the best front of house at the event and rightly so. It was really lovely and very tastefully designed! Having worked with Clodagh on a foodie tour of Ireland that we designed for Tour Ireland; Clodaghs Irish Food Trails I know that she has good taste!

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The display table at Clodagh’s kitchen complete with Crab cakes and Wild Nettle Gnocchi with Cashel Blue sauce.
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Crab cakes in the process of being eaten!!

At her stand I had a taste of the crab cakes which I actually know well as I’ve had them a few times in her restaurant in Arnotts! Then my Italian friend and I ate the Wild Nettle Gnocchi with Cashel Blue Cheese which was sublime. My friend is Italian and she thought the gnocchi dish was amazing too – high praise! I so can’t wait to have that again in her new restaurant when that opens at the end of June!

Here’s a sample – note I didn’t eat all of this!

Moving on from there was the stand for Wineport Lodge who were offering BBQ short rib of Irish Beef with braised gem, Kilmore Quay crab mayonnaise new season potato salad , asparagus and tomato chutney and white chocolate ice cream, summer berries and hazelnut praline.

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Wineport Lodge, Westmeath and their delicious tastes!

Next up Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt with their offerings; Soy Glazed Chicken wings,curried cauliflower, coriander and spring onion, braised short rib of beef, onion, smoked bacon, mushroom and red wine jus followed by bread and butter pudding with caramelia chocolate sauce.

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Gordon Ramsay at Powerscourt

Michelin starred Bon Appétit from Malahide were tempting us with dry aged Hereford beef and foie gras boudin with roma tomato and chorizo cassoulet, oak smoked haddock risotto cakes, saffron mayonnaise and sweet red peppers and oriental chicken wings with black sesame seeds, soy and lime aioli.

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Bon Appetit Malahide

The Rock Lobster had a half split lobster, traditional mane lobster roll and fish and chips. I had the half split lobster from here and it was delicious, washed down with a glass of French Sancerre. Yum! Definitely going to have to take a trip to this restaurant and find out more!

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Rock Lobster

We then headed to the chefs tent to watch Sunil Ghai’s demonstration followed by Clodagh’s. Great afternoon had, can’t wait for next year! A definite one to put in the diary if you’re travelling to Dublin in June 2014. Keep an eye on http://www.tasteofdublin.ie for details of dates and chefs . You won’t regret it.

That’s all for now folks, lots more in the pipeline so stay tuned. Will start doing restaurant reviews soon, cookery schools and have a feature on the villages of Adare and Dalkey…

The Kitchen in the Castle….and other stories.

The Kitchen in the castle….Dromoland Castle

A true legend of Irish Tourism celebrates its 50th year in business as a hotel

Looking down into the hotels gallery
Looking down into the hotels gallery

Sometimes hotels are preceded by their reputations, and not always do they live up to them. I always knew that there was something special about Dromoland Castle but never having been there I couldn’t put a finger on what it was.

Now I know! Last weekend on the hottest weekend of the year I made my first trip ever to Dromoland. The castle is celebrating its 50th year in business as a hotel this year so no better time to visit.

The castle is steeped in history. The building as it is was completed in 1835 adding on to an existing tower house built in the early 15th or 16th century. While Dromoland later became the residence of eight generations of the O’Brien family early records indicate the area was also occupied by other Gaelic families such as the McInerney Family during the 16th century. Fast forward to 1962 Donough O’Brien sold the castle and grounds because of financial issues. He built Thomond House on a hill overlooking the castle and lived there till he died in 1968. That house is now occupied by the 18th Baron Inchiquin. For more history on the castle click here.

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One of the magnificent bedrooms at Dromoland Castle.

Many famous people have checked into Dromoland Castle and I’m sure like me didn’t want to leave, the list includes Ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Jnr, Bono, Richard Branson, The Beatles, Pierce Brosnan, Nelson Mandela and Quentin Tarantino. The book even tells you at the front what some of these people ate while they were there.

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Picture by David Crimmins and taken from The Dromoland Castle Cookbook

History aside, I came to meet with Executive Chef at the Castle David McCann. As part of the 50th birthday celebrations the castle has published its own cookbook. A confessed cookbook fanatic I was intrigued by this! The book is only available to guests at the hotel or online on the hotels own website www.dromoland.ie

For clients arriving in Shannon we use Karl King Executive Travel. We have used Karl for many years and he operates a very professional service. On arrival at the castle I was shown to my room by Nico. With a lovely cool colour scheme of soft greens and blues its immediately relaxing and spacious. Like any ex-hotel employee on arrival in any room in any hotel I go looking at everything! It was all top class! I then headed back downstairs to meet with Chef.

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One of the permanent guests at the castle.

Chef. McCann has been with the hotel since 1995 and overlooks the food operations in The Earl of Thomond Restaurant in the main hotel, The Fig Tree in the Golf Club, Functions in the Brian Boru centre and the Inn at Dromoland its sister hotel. A busy man! I was very grateful that he was able to spend some time with me.

Like many people, myself included David ended up in the hospitality business almost by accident because he wasn’t sure after leaving school what to do. Thankfully he found his calling and so started a great career!

Exec. Chef David McCann and cake made for the celebration

Trained by CERT (a now defunct training body specifically for the hospitality business), David then went on to work with some of Dublin’s best hotels and restaurants to gain some classical cuisine training before moving on to London where he further enhanced this with time in The Mirabelle and the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Many Irish chefs who were trained in the 80’s had to move away to get work but ultimately Ireland has benefited from this as these chefs gained new skills and returned home with great ideas and abilities. This has led to an explosion of interest in the Irish food scene. Finally we have a reputation as a Food Island and we have moved away from a country that used to boil and cook the hell out of everything!

David came to Dromoland in 1995 and has seen many changes and developments in the ensuing years. He oversees and apprentice scheme at the castle for chefs; combing college with intensive training. One of his apprentices has just opened a place on Sloane street in London.

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While restaurants change and are trendsetters to some degree in the food business hotels and their restaurants are a different kettle of fish as we say! Dromoland is still very much a classical restaurant which has to satisfy the demand of the discerning visitor to the castle. There is still an element of tourists wanting Irish Stew and corned beef and cabbage but travellers are more knowledgeable and will expect food in this 5* hotel to be the same as they’d get in any 5* restaurant in their own country. Tourism Ireland David says are doing a great job in promoting Irish food with the assistance of other chefs such as Neven Maguire.

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Sunset over the lake at Dromoland

The star of the restaurant and Irish food in general really is the local produce, in Ireland we have a great larder and if you ask anyone including David what is great about Irish food the answer you will get is the cheeses, the dairy produce and most definitely the meat which is justifiably world renowned.When he’s not on duty David likes to cook for himself and his family good quick food such as risottos which are a family favourite and enjoy a glass of red wine.

After I left Chef I wandered around the grounds of the hotel briefly and to take some photos in daylight. That evening the sun was so bright it was really like a ball of fire in the sky, kind of a rare enough sight here! After a quick freshen up, I went down to the main restaurant the Earl of Thomond for dinner. I was met by the affable Mr Frisby the hotel manager who allocated me a nice seat, exactly as I asked for (somewhere that I wouldn’t look too conspicuous as a sole diner!) and explained to me the menu and made some recommendations. I choose the warmed smoked salmon salad which was served with pickled fennel and tomato and sauce vierge which was beautiful. Following this I had the Roast Tail of Monkfish with thyme and nutmeg which was served on a bed of red pepper risotto with Asparagus and a buerre blanc sauce. This was quite genuinely one of the most amazing dishes I’ve had the pleasure to eat. I could have licked the plate clean but it wouldn’t have been appropriate! Because it was an ice cream kind of day I had the selection of ice creams.

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(PS – I met Chef McCann, Mr Frisby and Nico from the hotel again this past Monday at the Restaurant association of Ireland awards. They were up for best hotel restaurant in Munster region. They didn’t win but for sure were a deserved nominee and in my eyes would be a worthy winner. )

A short walk after dinner and I retired to bed. I would say the bed in Dromoland was probably the best I have ever slept in. I had a really great night’s sleep. With the sun beaming in the window I awoke early and got ready for the day ahead. After a breakfast of Buttermilk panakes I was all set. Before leaving the hotel I got to see the state rooms and also the magnificent Presidential Suite….ooh someday to stay there!

After an all too short trip I had to leave the hotel early the next morning

To finish here is a recipe from the book. I chose the Malbay Crab and Smoked Salmon Starter.

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Photo by David Crimmins and taken from The Dromoland Castle Cookbook.

Ingredients

12 slices of good quality Irish smoked salmon

300g cooked white crab meat

1 Garlic clove peeled and crushed

1 Tbsp Creme Fraiche

1 tbsp mayonnaise

1 beef tomato, peeled, deseeded and diced

4 scallions washed and sliced

1tsp chopped tarragon

¼ cucumber peeled, deseeded and sliced

Squeeze of lemon

Dash of Tabasco

For the Dressing

4tbsp French dressing

1tbsp chopped washed capers

1tsp chopped dill

Method

  1. Place the crab meat in a large bowl with all the other ingredients except the salmon
  2. Mix gently and check for seasoning
  3. Place the crab mixture in the centre of each plate surrounded by the smoked salmon
  4. Place in the fridge while the dressing is being prepared.
  5. When ready to serve drizzle the dressing around each plate and garnish with some mixed leaves.

So Happy Birthday Dromoland, long may you continue! Here’s to the next 50! Dromoland castle is part of our luxury tours on Tour Ireland -check them out here. So much to do in this region, The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher, Burren Food Trail, Burren Smokehouse, St Tola Goats farm to see how they make their famous cheese, Fabulous beaches…the list is endless!

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