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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? Vegetarians love it, of course, but you don’t need to be vegetarian to thrill to this brilliant food. Clutching copies of his iconic cookbooks (at least metaphorically) to their hearts, the faithful pour in to sample modern classics like braised fresh artichokes with borlotti beans, mandurio tomatoes, lemon cream and fried capers or the beautiful chard leaf timbale of roast tomato with haloumi & puy lentils, saffron hazelnut butter, crisped potato, and cumin carrots - current examples of the original cooking style at this punchy little restaurant, which has become an enduring favourite for many visitors to Cork. Anyone lucky enough to be able to overnight in one of the bright and spacious rooms above the restaurant can really go to town and have the works (dinner and accommodation deals offered), along with an organic wine perhaps. The cooking is never less than stunning - and never “cheffy”.
Dunbrody Country House Hotel
Arthurstown Co Wexford
Set in parkland and gardens on the Hook Peninsula, just across the estuary from Waterford city, Catherine and Kevin Dundon’s elegant Georgian manor is renowned for its food, and especially the fine dining restaurant, The Harvest Room, where Kevin and his team demonstrate very tastily the ethos of fresh local and in season that applies to everything at Dunbrody. Given its history, the house is quite grand but that is not to say that it’s no fun - and each of the Dundons’ imaginative developments in converted outbuildings has added to the fun factor. First there was what must be Ireland’s most stylish cookery school - designed to cater for all levels of cooks, from budding enthusiasts to the experienced gourmet - and, alongside it, a beautiful spa. Then there was 'The Local' - a rustic late-week bar, with an authentic rural pub ambience that is supplied by beers from their own micro-brewery and the ABC (Arthurstown Brewing Company) Brewery, a larger commercial brewing operation that was built behind the pub in 2015. And when Kevin Dundon says local, he means the beers too: the ones produced here are based on locally grown grains, hops grown on site and their own spring water. And, as Kevin has a particular interest in pairing food and drink, the beers are designed especially to work well with food - a lot of which comes from the extensive kitchen gardens, especially at this time of plenty.
Mallow Co Cork
If it’s October it must be time for the renowned Longueville House Mushroom Hunt, held this year on Sunday 16th October. Hopeful hunters gather at 9.30 am for this annual north Cork muddy boots event, then hike around the estate (maps - and a mushroom expert - supplied) in search of the edible mushroom varieties that grow here so prolifically in autumn. Once the day’s harvest is in and identified, chef/proprietor William O’Callaghan and his team cook a feast of mushrooms from the haul, creating a special three-course lunch that’s with wines chosen for the occasion. (Price €85: coffee & home made cookies on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, luncheon with wine; Children under 12, €25: milk & cookies on arrival, Mushroom Hunt, Kiddies Luncheon with Farm Pressed Apple Juice.) Dogs on a leash are welcome too. Later in the month, the annual Harvest Lunch with distillery tour by Dan Duggan - chief Apple Brandy Distiller and Cider Brewer at Longueville House - is held to coincide with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, on Sunday 30th October; price €59 including lunch with cider.
Ballyknocken House & Cookery School
Gleanealy Ashford Co Wicklow
Catherine Fulvio is so well known thanks to her TV work, demonstrations at food shows and other events and cookery books , 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 Catherine and her team make four-course dinners for guests using seasonal local produce, including vegetables and herbs from the Ballyknocken farm. The fruit trees and herbs that she planted when she first took over the running of the house now provide seasonal produce for the table, and for her popular cookery school - which is in a renovated milking parlour in the grounds. A busy programme of events offers a wide range of classes for all levels of ability and experience, many of them lifestyle or seasonally led - vegetarian, foraging and Christmas cooking, for example - and residential cookery breaks. Not that you have to attend a cookery class to enjoy a stay here, of course, it is also a great base for a walking break, or simply to explore the beautiful Wicklow Hills.
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 the neighbouring counties of Meath, 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, Thornhill 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 his famous Tasting Menu (10 courses, available with or without wine pairings), Neven should offer an equally impressive Vegetarian Menu. Where else would vegetarians be able to indulge in dishes like Ryefield goats cheese with walnut puree and pickled vegetable, and Courgette Risotto Fritters with smoked tomato jam & sherry vinegar jelly? And the excellent Neven Maguire Cookery School is next door to his beautiful restaurant with rooms, offering down to earth classes and residential courses on many popular topics including healthy eating and vegetarian cooking, based on the very best of seasonal ingredients - some of them produced on site.
Rathmullan Co Donegal
What better time to visit Donegal than off season, when its rugged charms are at their best and there’s a cosy fireside and great food to go back to after a day exploring this stunning county. And great food doesn’t get better or more local than at the Wheeler family’s relaxed hotel on the shores of Lough Swilly, as the beautiful Walled Garden is at the heart of everything that happens in the kitchen here. Each day’s menu in the aptly named Cook & Gardener restaurant is inspired by its seasonal bounty, along with other local foods, and there are always some outstanding vegetarian dishes among chef Micheal Harley’s exciting creations. And, in the basement, the atmospheric Tap Room bar is renowned for the hotel’s collaboration with a pair of likeminded businesses, Scarpello & Co (of stone baked pizza fame) and nearby Kinnegar Brewery - a partnership made in heaven Occasional food and drink events are run at Rathmullan, including a fun educational autumn special for beer lovers, The Kinnegar Academy (Oct 16th -17th 2016), which includes an offer of special overnight rates.
Dungarvan Co Waterford
Paul and Maire Flynn’s wonderful restaurant with rooms and cookery school have done an enormous amount to attract discerning visitors to West Waterford and - backed up by other excellent long established businesses in the beautiful rural and coastal areas nearby - they are continuing to build on the area’s developing reputation as a food destination. Whether to take part in one of the cookery classes - Winter in Italy, Flavours of the Middle East, and Kitchen Confidential/The Insider Knowledge are some tempting topics coming up soon - or simply to enjoy the terrific cooking in the restaurant or wine bar, a visit here is always worth a journey. The state of the art cookery school 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. Everything at The Tannery ties in with Paul’s avid support for local and seasonal foods and his admirable philosophy of simplicity. While the main restaurant is a special destination for many, the atmospheric Tannery Wine Bar offers a super alternative for casual dining, with a focus on wines by the glass, blackboard specials and small plates. Magic.
Good Things @ Dillon's Corner
Skibbereen Co Cork
Carmel Somers’s aptly named restaurant and cookery school attracted a band of dedicated fans to its original small premises at Durrus (we have even heard of one couple who chose the location of their holiday house especially to be nearby), and enthusiasts lost no time in following her when she moved to a smart new home in the centre of Skibbereen in 2016. Here, in an imaginatively converted corner building, she has far more space to be creative - the ground floor makes a terrific café and, above it, the entire first floor is cleverly designed as a dual purpose space for the cookery school and an evening restaurant. As before, the courses offered are a fun mix of the practical and cheeky, and include her popular Kitchen Miracle Programme and Dozen Quickies in a Day, plus many others including occasional vegetarian courses and several aimed at men - Man Never In The Kitchen, for example, in November. Carmel – who is totally committed to using top class local, organic and free-range ingredients in season - teaches classes herself and the numbers are still small, allowing for personal tuition.
Nire Valley, Ballymacarbry, Co Waterford
For a relaxed break in one of the most scenic and unspoilt parts of Ireland, the Wall family’s fine modern country house and restaurant in the beautiful Nire Valley makes an ideal base, and it is especially beautiful in autumn. Walking breaks are a speciality - hill walking, low level walks, forest walks, quiet country roads for walking (and cycling) all begin at the doorstep of Hanora's Cottage – and breaks offered are outstanding value, especially midweek. Hanora’s is renowned for its relaxed comfort - and its good 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
Renowned for offering an outstanding - and remarkably diverse - guest experience, Justin and Jenny Green’s home is a gracious mansion surrounded by its own farmland, magnificent wooded grounds (complete with trout lake) and mature gardens, all carefully managed and maintained. The gardens and woodland are wonderful all year and autumn is especially lovely. A leaflet outlining 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. Fruits, including loganberries, figs, pears, apples and raspberries are served in season and cucumbers, chillies and tomatoes are grown in the greenhouse. All of which is of special interest to those who love their fruit and veg, but they are also famous for terrific local beef and wild foods - feathered and furred game appear on the menu in season, as well as wild Atlantic salmon caught on their beats on the river Blackwater. And not only are the fruit preserves for breakfast homemade, but also elderflower cordial and ’Ribena’ – and happy hens produce wonderful eggs for breakfast and baking. And that’s before we even start thinking about the whey-based Ballyvolane gin, Bertha’s Revenge, that’s taken the crafts drink world by storm. Just the spot for a peaceful, very relaxing, well-fed and watered (so to speak) break, especially in this season of plenty.