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Ireland’s Leading Independent Food & Hospitality Guide
Georgina Campbell suggests some especially interesting places to take an off-season break – places where nature’s bounty is celebrated in wonderful ways: foraging expeditions, cookery courses and, of course, excellent seasonal meals to enjoy.
Western Road Cork
Where better to seek the fruits of the autumn’s abundant harvest than Denis Cotter’s ground-breaking vegetarian restaurant? Clutching copies of his iconic first cookbook, Paradiso Seasons, (at least metaphorically) to their hearts, the faithful pour in to sample classics like the beautiful beetroot mousse with orange scented yoghurt, served with fennel crispbreads and a rocket, pear & crisped beetroot salad - a brilliant example of the cooking style at this colourful little restaurant, and an enduring favourite. If in for lunch (Friday and Saturday), you might enjoy a salad of local tomatoes on grilled sourdough bread, with basil, Desmond cheese and roasted garlic oil - or anyone lucky enough to be able to overnight in one of the bright and spacious rooms above the restaurant can have the works (dinner and accommodation deals offered), along with an organic wine perhaps. The cooking is never less than stunning - and never “cheffy”. (See also The Tannery Cookery School courses.)
Miltown Malbay Co Clare
Near the west Clare coast, between Kilkee and Lahinch, Rita Meade’s Victorian country house has a well-earned reputation as both a restaurant and a cookery school. Cookery courses offered often include Vegetarian: “Look what’s happening to vegetarian food,” says Rita, “We’re all eating it for healthy living …vegetables and fruit are taking centre stage.” Roast pepper soup, gratin of pumpkin with leeks and hazelnuts with Kilshany cheese sauce, caulifower & broccoli tempura with Thai ginger dip and big root pie with marinated bramleys are typical of the vegetarian dishes covered, and some similar dishes are included in Autumn Entertaining menus (16-18 Oct); and a nice thing about Berry Lodge is that non-participants are welcome to stay (and be fed) too. Cost of the full weekend is €240 (non-participant €150), cookery only €110 (including lunch and wine). Yummy stuff.
Mallow Co Cork
If it’s October it must be time for the renowned Longueville House Mushroom Hunts, held this year on 14th and 18th of October. This is the 8th year of the annual muddy boots event in north Cork, when hopeful hunters are invited to gather at 9.30 am and hike around the estate (with maps supplied – and a mushroom expert) in search of the edible mushroom varieties that grow prolifically in autumn. Once the day’s harvest is in (and has been discussed over a warming glass of mulled wine), chef/proprietor William O’Callaghan and his team cook a feast of mushrooms from the haul, creating a special three-course lunch that’s served in the Presidents’ Restaurant, with wines chosen for the occasion. Price €90 (includes coffee & scones on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, Mulled Wine Reception, luncheon with wine) Children under 12, €25 (includes milk & cookies on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, Kiddies Luncheon with Farm Pressed Apple Juice.) Dogs on leash are welcome too.
Ballyknocken House & Cookery School
Gleanealy Ashford Co Wicklow
Catherine Fulvio is so well known through her appearances on TV3’s Ireland AM, demonstrations at food shows and other events – and her seasonal cookery column in The Irish Garden magazine – that guests feel they already know her when they arrive at her pretty Victorian farmhouse near Ashford. Comfort, cosiness, home-cooked food and hospitality are the hallmarks of this third-generation business and, not only has Catherine refurbished the house throughout since taking over in 1999, but she makes four-course dinners for guests using seasonal local produce, including vegetables and herbs from the Ballyknocken farm. She also planted the garden with new fruit trees, roses and herbs and, of course, started her cookery school - which is in a renovated milking parlour in the grounds. A busy programme of events includes a one-day Taste of Autumn course on Saturday 10th October; running from 9.30am-1.30pm, it’s a hands on class on seasonal recipes for Autumn Entertaining and costs just €110 including lunch/tasting plates.
MacNean House & Restaurant
Blacklion Co Cavan
Neven Maguire has long been one of the country’s most outspoken advocates of seasonal and local produce – proudly pointing out that Cavan and neighbouring counties of Monaghan, Fermanagh and Leitrim are exceptionally well endowed with the great foods that make ingredients good enough to speak for themselves once they reach his kitchen (think Corleggy cheeses, Silver Hill duck, Fermanagh black bacon, Rossinver organic herbs and vegetables to name but a few examples). So it should come as no surprise that, along with other special features including a refreshingly keenly priced Tasting Menu (9 courses, €85), Neven should offer an outstanding Vegetarian Menu. Where else would vegetarians be able to choose their starters between dishes like a trio of Ryfield goats cheese (crispy fried, creamed with sauce vierge & mini pizza) and ravioli of ricotta with wild mushroom & chard (with rocket salad), for example? And Neven gives cookery classes all over the place too, how does he do it.
Rathmullan Co Donegal
“Natural Food Award 2009 and ‘also now with cookery school’ ” say my scribbled notes. Ah, yes, but just read organic gardener Dennis Hawke’s monthly diary of the beautiful Walled Garden on the Rathmullan website and you’ll understand why the food at this relaxed hotel on the shores of Lough Swilly is genuinely more natural than most (that and chef Ian Orr’s uncompromising purchasing policy). Check out their Events Calendar and you’ll find a nice selection of topics that reflect the location and season (Autumn, Saturday 10th October; Jam & Bread Making, Tue 11th October). Not exactly a cookery school as yet, they call it ‘Ian’s Demonstration Kitchen’: you arrive to tea or coffee and homemade shortbread at 11.30am or 2.30pm depending on the scedule, graze through the demo or have lunch with a glass of wine at the end. €65 per person or stay the night and get it at €50. Nice one.
Dungarvan Co Waterford
The opening of The Tannery Cookery School (and more rooms) at Paul and Maire Flynn’s wonderful West Waterford restaurant has been one of the year’s most significant foodie events – and the new Glanbia Garden, formerly derelict land behind the cookery school that they’ve developed with Glanbia sponsorship, is especially exciting, tying in perfectly with Paul’s avid support for local and seasonal foods and his admirable philosophy of simplicity. The cookery school’s state of the art kitchen can take twelve hands-on students and the range of courses reflects Paul’s cooking ethos – Paul Flynn’s Autumn Kitchen was the seminal course that inspired him to open the cookery school. Guest chefs coming up between now and Christmas are Neven Maguire (Neven Cooks, Monday 30th November, €195) and Denis Cotter (Denis Cotter’s Vegetarian Christmas Saturday 12th December, €180). And, for something that promises to be seriously entertaining, there’s An Audience with Senator David Norris (Friday 30th October, €110).
Good Things Café
Durrus Co Cork
Beautifully located beside the sea, Carmel Somers’ aptly named restaurant and cookery school is small and simple – and, for most people, distant – but accommodation is available nearby, and it’s truly ‘vaut le détour’. The experimental classes of five years ago is now a fully fledged cookery school; Carmel – who is totally committed to using top class local, organic and free-range ingredients in season - does all the teaching herself and the numbers are small (max 16), allowing for personal tuition. The Happy Vegetarian (17th -18th October, €200) is an “ode to scrumptious, mouth-watering dishes and no flesh in sight!” Designed to teach a complete repertoire of vegetarian dishes, the course attracts lots of non-vegetarians ‘all looking for a creative way to cook the humble vegetable’. By contrast, at The Practical Pig Weekend Course (14th -15th November, €375 including dinner) a full pig is butchered: students learn how to use everything except the squeak, and have lots to take home.
Nire Valley, Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford
The Wall family’s fine modern country house and restaurant in the beautiful Nire Valley makes an ideal base for a relaxed break in one of the most unspoilt parts of Ireland – and is especially beautiful in autumn. Walking breaks are a speciality - hill walking, low level walks, forest walks, quiet country roads for walking / cycling all begin at the doorstep of Hanora's Cottage – and breaks offered are outstanding value, especially midweek. Hanora’s is renowned for its food: husband-and-wife team Eoin and Judith Wall are both chefs, and they take great pride in sourcing the freshest and best ingredients from local suppliers, including seafood from nearby Helvick and artisan foods from the farmers’ markets in Dungarvan and Clonmel. Walking breaks include memorable breakfasts and a packed lunch as well as 5-course dinners in the restaurant – where a full vegetarian menu is offered.
Castlelyons Fermoy Co Cork
The Greene family’s gracious mansion is surrounded by its own farmland, magnificent wooded grounds, a restored trout lake and beautiful mature gardens, all carefully managed and well maintained. Garden lovers will find a stay here especially rewarding: an information leaflet detailing the garden and walks is available to guests, and Justin’s father Jeremy grows a huge amount of vegetables throughout the year in the vast walled garden - less usual vegetables such as sea kale, asparagus and globe artichokes as well as lots of different varieties of salad leaves, four kinds of potatoes, chard, spinach, courgettes, all sorts of cabbages, curly kale, beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke and much more besides. Fruit including loganberries, figs, pears, apples and raspberries are served in season and cucumbers, chillies and tomatoes are grown in the greenhouse. And a lot of the food is wild - feathered and furred game appear on the menu in season, as well as wild Atlantic salmon caught on their beats on the river Blackwater. Not only the fruit preserves for breakfast are homemade but also elderflower cordial and ’Ribena’ – and happy hens produce wonderful eggs for breakfast and baking. An excellent choice for a peaceful and very relaxing break, especially in this season of plenty,