With its special brand of relaxed professionalism, the Kelly family’s renowned beachside hotel sums up all that is best about the sunny south-east for many regular visitors.
Perhaps it’s because its history in the same family spans three centuries, so there’s not a lot they don’t know about keeping guests happy.
And spring 2014 was a momentous time for the hotel as the fifth generation of the family, Laura Kelly, returned from completing her post-gradate education at the world famous Ecole Hotelière de Lausanne (as is traditional in the Kelly family) and gaining valuable experience abroad, to take her place beside her father Bill, and grandmother Breda Kelly.
The contribution that this family has made to Irish hospitality is extraordinary, and one of the nicest things about its recent history is the way Bill Kelly supported and encouraged everyone through the recession, urging hoteliers to be innovative and keep up standards throughout the difficult years.
And the Kellys took their own advice too, through successfully marketing special events like their off season hobby weekends - and making the brave move of opening their first venture outside the hotel, the very successful Kelly's Cafe at Drinagh (see entry). The Kelly family's determination to succeed saw their business come through the recession unscathed, and that is an inspiration to many others who are now rebuilding from the bottom up in a more benign climate as confidence grows and visitor numbers increase
The appeal of this remarkable hotel is mainly down to the Kelly family themselves, but it's also that has everything anyone could want, for both individuals and families. Its special qualities are so wide-ranging that it’s hard to know where to begin - will it be with the stunning art collection they have built up over the years, the exceptional leisure and pampering facilities (constantly updated), or perhaps the unusual amount of ‘personal space’ offered in a series of comfortable lounging areas around the hotel; for some the highlight of the hotel is the two excellent restaurants (see below).
It’s known as the ‘hotelier’s hotel’ because so many others in the hospitality industry choose to come here to relax (praise indeed!) and, along with exceptional hospitality (and a no conference/event policy), its key appeal is that there is genuinely something for everybody, so people with different interests can do their own thing (or nothing at all) then meet up with friends and family over dinner to chat about their day.
In summer it’s the in-place for family holidays - there’s a crèche, playroom and a children’s playground - but people travelling without children will be glad to know that the number permitted at any one time is limited, to prevent creating an imbalance.
Many of the bedrooms have sea views (the best have balconies), and even now, when so there is so much competition between hotels to offer the best leisure facilities, Kellys remains right up there at the top, with two indoor swimming pools, a ‘SeaSpa’ well-being centre (11 treatment rooms, seawater vitality pool, steam room, rock sauna and much else besides), indoor tennis, and - a bit of fun for Francophiles - boules.
Lots to do nearby too, including golf of course. Outside the summer holiday season (end June-early Sept), ask about special breaks (including special interest breaks), when rates are reduced.
Small conferences or functions are accepted (theatre style & private dining room approx. 40).
Free broadband wi/fi. Fishing (sea). Snooker, pool table. Hair dressing. Children welcome (under 3 months free in parents' room, cot available without charge, baby sitting arranged). Supervised playroom & children's playground. Destination Spa; Leisure centre ('pool, fitness room, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi); Walking, cycling, croquet, lawn bowls, tennis, pitch & putt. Garden. No pets.
Rooms 118 (2 suites, 2 junior suites, 20 ground floor, 2 disabled). Lift. Room service (limited hours). Turndown service offered.
B&B From €88 pps; SC10%. Hotel closed early Dec-mid Feb.
This L shaped room, which has been run under the eagle eye of Pat Doyle since 1971, has a sense of traditional opulence yet with a fresh, almost gallery-esque approach - an ideal home for some favourites from the hotel’s famous art collection.
Executive Chef Eugene Callaghan has a long history with the hotel, having previously been head chef of La Marine (see below), and his creative cooking contributes enormously to the reputation of Kelly's as a dining destination. His menus reflect the value placed on fresh local produce, with ingredients like Wexford beef, Rosslare mackerel, Slaney salmon and locally sourced vegetables used in daily-changing menus.
The hotel’s renowned wine list is highly informative, meticulously sourced, always changing, and excellent value. Most wines are directly imported (some from Bill's brother-in-law Vincent Avril in Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and there are many treats in the collection, which includes organic and bio-dynamic wines, and an exceptional choice of half bottles - and a page of magnums (2 bottles), jeraboams (4 bottles) and imperials (8 bottles), which are ideal for big parties and special celebrations and often represent exceptional value too.
Seats 270 (private room 40); air conditioning. L &D daily: 1-2.15pm, 7.30-9pm; Set L €24; set Sun L €27; Set D €43.50. House wine from €24; SC discretionary.
This informal restaurant has its own separate entrance and offers a relaxed alternative to the dining experience in Beaches Restaurant. A zinc bar imported from France is the focal point of the rather pubby bar, where you can have an aperitif - although the turnover in La Marine is brisk and it is better to go directly to your table if it is ready. Fashionably sparse tables have fresh flowers, good quality cutlery and paper napkins, but space is at a premium.
Head chef Ronan Dunne’s ingredients are carefully sourced, using local seasonal produce as much as possible, and a finely judged balancing act between traditional and contemporary fare is achieved on menus offering plenty of choice: a starter of goats cheese ‘truffles’ with black olive crostini rubs shoulders with classic grilled Bannow Bay mussels with garlic & parsley butter, while main courses may include an interesting variation on Wexford rib eye steak (with Burgundy snails, garlic & red wine jus) and also offer upbeat comfort food like veal liver with champ and sweet & sour onions.
Desserts are deliciously updated-classics – chocolate truffle cake with candied kumquats perhaps - and there’s always a carefully selected trio of Irish cheeses.
Service is swift and friendly and Sunday lunch, which is very good value, tends to be a little more traditional. Booking strongly advised, especially at weekends. A light bar menu is also available every afternoon, 12.30-5.30.
Well chosen wines reflecting the style of food are fairly priced.
Also at: Kelly's Café, Drinagh, Co Wexford (see entry).