A week in Ireland
Thursday, July 12th , 2012
Over the last few days I travelled from the west of Ireland to the east, keen to see some of the pretty Irish countryside. There are certainly some lovely spots, through the weather during the trip gave ample evidence as to why the countryside is so lush and verdant. We began at Ballynahinch, which nestles near the west coast in a lovely riverside setting (pictured). The natural setting is gorgeous, and quite a way from the nearest town. The hotel itself was pleasant if a little in need of renovation in places, but the restaurant did not match the setting. There were some good local ingredients, but in most cases these did not really get used as well as they might. Some dishes were fine, such as a nice Dover sole, but there were two dishes that were badly overcooked, which was a shame. Some of the waiting staff also badly need better training.
Ballyfin Demense is to the west of Dublin, a stately home that was falling down until it was rescued by a wealthy American family a decade ago. After a nine year refurbishment it looks great, every detail of the hotel sympathetically restored. The rooms are exquisitely appointed, and the house looks out over a lake and woodland, the estate over 600 acres in total, with features such as a folly with a waterfall leading down to the house (pictured). They have recruited some talented kitchen staff too, led by Fred Cordonnier, who was previous head chef of Ireland’s sole two star Michelin restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud. Here the excellent local ingredients, many grown on the estate, got the treatment they deserved, with a series of consistently good meals there during our stay. The hotel and waiting staff (led by Frederick Poivre) here were top drawer too. If you are ever looking to treat yourselves to a country escape then it would be hard to think of a nicer spot.
In Dublin I enjoyed Chapter One, whose experienced chef combines good classical technique with modern touches. A rabbit dish in particular was memorably good, and the service was excellent. It is easy to see why it was packed out, even on a mid-week lunch. It is no mean feat to fill a smart restaurant in Dublin in the current economy.
Finally, I was pleased to have a chance to revisit The Greenhouse, which I had briefly eaten at in April and been impressed. This visit confirmed the serious talent in the kitchen, with modern takes on classical dishes, such as a deconstructed beef tartare, and a stunning turbot dish. The attention to detail could be seen in the very delicate Parmesan tuiles and the moist rum baba as one of the petit fours. The restaurant’s Finnish chef, Mickael Viljanen, has real ability and is a name to watch for the future.
It may seem a cliché, but I found real warmth of welcome throughout Ireland, not just from the staff of smart hotels and restaurants, but with pretty much everyone we met. Even the immigration and customs officials at Shannon were charming, and this is not a description that usually springs to mind when going through an airport.
The blog will continue to have an erratic schedule in July due to further travel.