Despite recent development at this seaside village, Barna has retained some of its old charm around the harbour area – and its location, handy to both Connemara and Galway City, is a huge attraction. And so is Fergus O’Halloran’s unique hotel which, although only open since 2006, has achieved national recognition thanks to hands-on management and marketing by an inspired proprietor.
Named after Connemara’s Twelve Bens mountains, The Twelve has bravely brought contemporary style to an area known for its traditional appeal. It replaces a long-established hotel and the site has been well-used to create a sense of ample space.
You arrive through a small but quirky reception area, or directly from the car park through a covered seating/smoking area to The Pins Bar, which is a fine, welcoming space with mixed seating including comfortable couches, an open fire, and bookshelves full of books including some for children.
The earthy mix of black tables, clay brown walls and wooden flooring is relaxing, and the sense of informality is emphasised by central raised counter-style tables and tall stools set up for parties of up to ten, as well as a spread of tables at normal height.
The main food focus of the hotel is here in The Pins Bar Bakery Bistro, where food is served all day from breakfast through lunch and dinner with last orders at 10pm. This busy local and tourist venue is popular for sports on TV and weekend live music sessions, as well as its comprehensive menu. Its reputation for good pizzas and breads, baked in their own bakery, is fully justified.
Examples of simple quality showcasing the bakery products might include a really fine Beef Sandwich on Foccacia bread: thin slices of medium sirloin with onion jam, horseradish cream and salad leaves plus a bowl of chips, for less than a tenner.
In addition, the daily menu focuses n 'Casual Local Food' and features wide range of fairly priced dishes of interest raging from salads and Smaller Dishes - including sharing dishes such as a local tapas platter (mcGeough's air-dried lamb, bacon hock & cabbage terrine, baked wild mussels with brown bread & pickled vegetables) and a local seafood plate - to 'Larger Plates' of, for example, Glin Valley Irish chicken supreme (from nearby Co Limerick) or Hooker battered pollock fillet (coated with a batter made with the local Hooker beer).
There is huge focus on the best local and artisan foods - and drinks too, with food pairings suggested for a wide range of drinks, including Irish craft beers, some of which are gluten free.
This fine, bright cosmopolitan bar offers good levels of service, an admirable focus on locally sourced food, and an emphasis on cocktails and “gourmet” beers; it is coeliac friendly and provides a childrens’ menu.
The stylish guestrooms are quirky, but not at the expense of comfort; six room types are offered, most with separate bath and shower, some with their own cocktail bar; there’s a suite to suit families or friends travelling together, a Funnymoon Suite – and, the ultimate, Suite X11, with open fireplace used as a room divider.
The dark tones continue among the bedrooms which have darkwood floors and subtle variations of lighting and fabrics to make rooms distinctive from each other. Large old-fashioned gilt-framed, mirrors are a feature, especially leaning against the walls on the corridors – a design statement that also lends a homely touch.
Since opening in 2006, The Twelve has become a respected rendezvous, an innovative destination which always has something new to offer - a recent addition is the Pizza Dozzina, artisanal shop - and the constant efforts made to surprise and delight customers, and give value, is a real credit to the management.
Conferencing/Banqueting (120/100); free broadband wi/fi, business centre, secretarial services, video conferencing. Fully wheelchair accessible; children welcome (under 12s free in parents' room, cots available free of charge, baby sitting arranged, kids club); Lift, 24hr room service. Dogs welcome (no charge, stay in bedroom). Spa (jacuzzi, massage, hair dressing).
Rooms 48 (14 suites, 12 executive, 6 shower only, 22 family, 3 disabled, all no smoking). Room rate from about €75. Closed 2 or 3 days Christmas.
West At The Twelve:
The first floor fine dining restaurant, also predominantly black, has a variety of booths with leather banquettes seating, mood lighting from ceiling lights and fat table candles. The focus is on wine, with wines visible on temperature-controlled racks behind glass and a champagne bar within the room.
Reception and service have an ease and confidence, totally customer focused. Restaurant Manager, Kalman Mezzei, who has been at the hotel since its opening, stands out in an above-average team; his unobtrusive way sets the tone for knowledgeable, attentive service, reflecting the relaxed sophistication throughout the hotel - a singular style that owes much, no doubt, to the management of proprietor Fergus O’Halloran, who is also responsible for the hotel’s exceptional wine list.
Winners of the Bord Bia ‘Just Ask’ Restaurant of the Month in November 2009, the motto “Clean, Honest, Irish” sums up a philosophy which can be seen at work in every aspect of the hotel, notably the West à la carte menu.
Its straightforward simplicity is appealing; it is reasonably priced and with no cheffy descriptions. Seafood is a strength, of course, but also imaginative vegetarian dishes, mature beef and perhaps less usual ingredients such as rabbit. The menu at West is also a model of consumer information, listing produce 'in season this month' as well as suppliers.
Coeliac friendly dishes are highlighted and suppliers are listed, together with a welcome statement on seasonality – which, refreshingly, also encourages guests to ‘Just Ask’ if there are any questions on any product.
Following a similar pattern to the informal dishes offered downstairs in The Pins bar, the menu kicks off with a section of about ten 'Small Plates', ranging from Organic Soup of the Moment with Pins Bakery brown bread to Venison carpaccio or West Coast fish cake, all well under a tenner. Mains ('Large Plates') offer about ten dishes, including speciality pasta and Best of Local Seafood with many under €20 - notably Chef's Special Cut, the evening's special, which is snip at €16.
For a special occasions, by contrast, The Chef’s Table offers dinner in the kitchen for ten people – a gastronomic menu with “sensational” wines, at €160 per person.
Desserts will be hard to resist but, if you like to round off your meal on a savoury note, go for the rather quaintly named ‘Irish Cottage Cheese Menu’ – a well-balanced selection of five of Ireland’s finest artisan cheeses which, unusually, are priced by weight (€3.60 per oz); and they can be accompanied by a ‘Port and dessert wine flight’, ie three tasting shots of a port and two sweet wines.
The West’s wine list has all the hallmarks of dedicated selection by a wine-loving hotelier, outlining in detail and with commentary, a range of wines and beverages across a wide range, subjected to monthly monitoring. A trademark of The West is wine with or without skins by the glass and bottle, red and white, old and new world, with informative tasting notes.
Many areas and grape varieties are represented throughout the list, and trouble has been taken to collect a few rarities such as white Chateauneuf du Pape and a Sicilian white, from the Fiano grape, called Planeta.