Monday, May 21, 2018

Killarney: A Quick Visit


Killarney: A Quick Visit
Distillers from the 1800s remembered at Celtic Whiskey Bar

We were in Killarney for a short visit in early May. The intention, on arrival, was to eat outdoors at the lovely Deenagh Lodge but heavy showers put paid to that and we called to the Celtic Whiskey Shop & Larder, fast becoming a favourite of ours, for a light lunch. 

The Toastie Special with soup was ideal and came in at less than 16 euro for the two. The toastie was superb, on excellent sourdough, and the soup wasn't just a cup as you might expect for the price, but a big bowl. 

So, well refreshed, we were ready for a our water-bus cruise on the lakes. The rain had passed but it was still windy and cloudy as we embarked at Ross Castle. The boat was large, wide, and comfortable with a viewing area at the back, an area that was sheltered and I took the boatman’s advice and spent the trip out there.
Muckross Friary

We got an informative commentary - could hear him well out the back - and he slowed down, indeed stopped, at a few of the more interesting places, including Innisfallen Island. In other years, we’d have enjoyed the show of rhododendrons on some of the smaller rocky islands but the late spring had delayed the flowering. The trip took about an hour and cost a tenner; well worth it.
On the bus

In all the years we’ve been visiting Killarney we’ve never seen the Muckross Traditional Farm. The farm is quite close to Muckross House and there is an entry fee. The tour takes the form of a longish walk where you pass farmhouses and cottages of various sizes and vintages and hear about the good old days and the not so good. Lots of old farm implements around the place also, an old thresher, carts, and scufflers and so on.

Animals also. The Kerry cow, of course, and sheep and a few goats along the way, one with two very young kids. A sow too nursing a bunch of hungry bonhams. 
Lakes in the mist

Quite a few schoolchildren were visiting, which is a good thing of course. But a few of the exhibits were being reserved for them and that meant we couldn’t get into one or two rooms. Could these visits not take place in the morning when the farm is not open to the paying public? All in all though, it was a quite interesting visit and it wasn't just the kids that learned a thing or two.

The ruins of Muckross Friary are nearby but more then the six minutes indicated by a lady at the farm, unless walking over 1200 metres in six minutes is normal in Killarney! 
Kenmare Steeple

Again, we hadn’t visited before and on this occasion there were quite a few visitors here. The ruin of the 15th century friary is quite substantial, with views out to the lake, views than can be better appreciated by climbing up a few sets of steps. The cloisters are fairly well preserved, with a very large tree growing in the middle of the quadrangle. 

We also made a quick visit to Kenmare, including a recommended stop for excellent pancakes at the Strawberry Field, now celebrating 21 years in the Moll's Gap area. 

Then time to return to our beautiful overnight base, the renovated Cahernane House Hotel where we enjoy a terrific dinner, a pint or two in the reinvigorated Cellar Bar and a decent breakfast before heading home on the following day. A bientot, Killarney!

Kid on the Muckross farm



Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Lifeboat Inn. Courtmacsherry's Gastro Pub Up and Running


The Lifeboat Inn.
Courtmacsherry's Gastro Pub Up and Running

The Lifeboat Inn in Courtmacsherry is not open a year yet but is making quite an impression in the village. Serving good local food, much of it from the nearby waters, in a casual atmosphere has been the aim of David O’Halloran and chef Martin Buckley since they started here last summer and already it is paying off for them. 

Indeed, they have “expanded” across the road where an inviting terrace has been set up with views over the water. I reckon that will be buzzing in the months ahead. So, a tip for motorists: drive slowly here and allow that server (it may well be David as he looks after front of house) get across the road!

We were there recently and the menu , as promised, has lots of fish and seafood: cod, black sole, John Dory, crab claws and prawns. And quite a bit more as well. The menu is short enough but I prefer to see a short list and high quality, and that's what you get here.

Surprisingly enough, the wine list is a long one with lots of choice. The outstanding Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc features but the New Zealand wine is one of just a few from the New World. We enjoyed the Tandem Wines Casual Rosé and an Albarino, both from Spain, two of about ten whites available by the glass. 

A few more from the New World in the reds, where I spotted the lovely Finca Florencia Malbec from Argentina; some excellent European offerings too, ranging from 22 euro to 130. And there is a bar right there in the middle offering the usual suspects plus an outstanding local craft beer by Blacks of Kinsale.

We had five starters to choose from and my choice was their Prawns in garlic and white cream with crispy sourdough on the side to soak up the cream. A simple enough dish, delicate and delicious and pleasurably dispatched. 

CL’s opener had more texture, more flavours, also a little bit more robust, and the warm Haulie’s Black-pudding salad served with apple, walnut and crispy hen’s egg was also a winner.

Aside from the fish dishes, the mains may also include a Beef Burger in a Brioche Bun with Gubbeen Cheese and Tomato or a Sirloin Steak with all the trimmings.

My choice though was the Wild Mushroom Risotto with herbs and shaved Parmesan. This was one of the best I've had, just perfect and, at €14.00, good value also.

CL meanwhile also struck gold with her Cod with a Parmesan crust, baby potato, roast cauliflower, and wild garlic (no doubt from the local wood where we had earlier walked through swathes of it in flower). The fish was pristine, the whole dish a delicious combination of textures, flavours and aromas (19.95). Go for this if it is on when you visit!.

We were tempted by the desserts but eventually decided to share the cheese board. And we got a generous selection - Milleens, Hegarty’s Cheddar and Cashel Blue - served with an outstanding pear and fig chutney and plenty of bread and crackers. Another one to look out for!

Probably not surprising that the offering is so good here. Both David and chef Martin have put in long years learning the trade in London and Dublin before settling in Courtmacsherry. Their Gastro Pub is truly up and running and well worth a call, even if it is just for a glass of wine or beer on the terrace.

While we were among just a few diners - we were in very early - it would be advisable to book ahead, especially if you are going down just for the meal as they tend to get full early on at the weekend.

The Lifeboat Inn
Main Street
Courtmacsherry
Co. Cork
Tel: (023) 886 4656
Twitter: @the_lifeboatinn 

Amuse Bouche




At that time Antoni Fortuny still suspected that part of the boy’s mental deficiencies were due to his diet, which was far too influenced by his mother’s French cooking. It is a well known fact that the richness of buttery foods led to moral ruin and confusion of the intellect. He forbade Sophie to cook with butter ever again. The results were not entirely as he had anticipated.


from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2002). Highly Recommended.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Sherry Babies. Two of the Best.


Two of the loveliest sherries I've come across recently, each available in the convenient half-bottle size (37.5cl). These are for drinking now and not to be left in the opened bottle until next Christmas!

Sanchez Ayala Manzanilla (DO) “Gabriela” NV, 15%, €11.35, 64 Wine Dublin, Bradley’s of Cork, Greenman Dublin, Le Caveau Kilkenny

The fruit comes exclusively from their Los Cañas vineyard. Miguel Sanchez Ayala has been the source of the exclusive Equipo Navazos’ La Bota series over the years, another strong sign that the pedigree is faultless as Equipo Navazos are known to be fastidious, indeed forensic, in their search for the best.

The wine is raised in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, as all Manzanilla must be. It has spent some six years in solera and minimally filtered before bottling.


Colour is a light gold and the aromas hint of the flor and the sea. These characteristics appear too on the palate, fresh, salty and an absolutely satisfying wine with a persistent finish - you’ll find yourself licking your lips long after the final drop! Very Highly Recommended. Well priced too, by the way. 

If you were growing up in the area in the 1880s, you’d have come across Gabriela, a famous flamenco dancer and singer. She married a bullfighter and her sons became bullfighters too, one the legendary Joselito, fatally gored in the ring at the age of 25.

Lustau Oloroso Don Nuno sec Sherry (DO), 20%, €15.99 Bradley’s Cork

As we move from Manzanilla to Oloroso we jump up in the ABV. Lustau recommend serving this one slightly chilled with game dishes, dried fruits and cured cheeses. Great too as an aperitif. Either way, a little sip goes a long long way.


A few years ago at a sherry dinner in Ballymaloe, Lustau’s Manolo Lozano (RIP) told us the wine here has been selected from the start to be Oloroso so there is no flor at all. “Then we develop what we want. It is a very good wine, a strong wine for red meat, for game. Hard to match!” Ballymaloe chef Scott Walsh came up with a superb pairing: Braised Ox Tail with Romanesco, tomato, lentils.

Colour is a mid to dark bronze (the darker the colour, the longer it has been aged). Predominantly nutty aromas; nutty too on the rich concentrated palate where spice also appears; then a long persistent finish, like the tide, it just keeps coming in. Full bodied and well rounded, this is a superb wine and Very Highly Recommended from another well recommended source.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Two Outstanding White Wines


Carl Ehrhard Rüdesheim Bischofsberg Riesling trocken 2015, Rheingau (Germany), 12.5%, €19.65 Karwig Wines


I’ve long been a Carl Ehrhard fan and that continues after sampling this Riesling trocken from Bischofsberg, one of his vineyards. It has lovely bright gold colour. Apples feature in the aromas. This enticing crisp wine sees apples also in the flavours, a lively acidity too and then that minerally finish. This is a food friendly wine, Asian food and cheese are among the suggestions. Excellent too on its own and Very Highly Recommended.


If you’re new to German wine, you may need help with some of the words on the label:
Rüdesheim is the town.
Bischofsberg is the vineyard, named after a local archbishop.
Riesling is the grape.
Trocken means dry.
Rheingau is the wine district.
Ehrhard - you’re on a winner!



The vineyard has a gentle south-facing slope and the area in general is well known for its dry Rieslings - “full bodied with racy acidity”.


Yves Cuilleron á Chavanay “Les Vignes d’a Coté” Marsanne 2015, 14%, €17.95 64 Wine Dublin, Bradley’s of Cork, Greenman Dublin, Le Caveau Kilkenny



The Marsanne fruit for this Vin de France comes from an uncle’s vineyard revived by the return of Yves Cuilleron to Chavanay at the northern end of Saint-Joseph, one of the eight Northern Rhone crus.

If you like this, you are in good company as Victor Hugo was an admirer of Saint-Joseph wines. The main white grapes here are Clairette, Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier, Bourboulenc and there are two secondary grapes White Picpoul and Ugni Blanc.

Anticipation was high as I settled down with this. Cuilleron comes with high ratings: …superstar…leading light…bright shining star..are adjectives applied to him by leading wine writers and publications.

Colour is bright yellow with tints of green, limpid in the bottle. On the nose there are white fruits, hints of honey and light floral notes. It is round, rich with exotic flavours, a semi-creamy texture, acidity enough and a long dry finish. This fresh and generous wine over-delivers. It is a high quality entry level wine and Very Highly Recommended. Marsanne can age well but this one (all 18,200 bottles) is made to be drunk when it is young and fresh (sur le fruit).

"We work on what the year gives us". Evening Visit to Killahora Orchards

"We work on what the year gives us"
 
Evening Visit to Killahora Orchards

A group of members of the Munster Wine & Dine spent a very enjoyable evening on a tour and tasting at Killahora Orchards near Glounthaune yesterday (Tuesday). Barry was our enthusiastic guide as we got both our whistles and our feet (aside from those who had brought wellies) wet in a most delightful way. 

Some of us had already marked Killahora products, including Johnny Fall Down cider, the Pom 'O Apple Port and their unique Rare Apple ice wine, among our favourite things. Those who hadn't come across them before were converted on this tour and tasting. And Barry (and his cousin Dave) who are responsible for this innovative orchard have more in the pipeline.

For more details on Killahora Orchards please check my January post here. Photos (and a few comments) from Tuesday's tour follow.

Blossom on a very young red fleshed apple tree. Rosé Cider?

Barry (striped top) finds a very stragglers under the crab tree. Lots of chat from Barry including pruning tips
and also the fact that cows don't like tannins!

Spray in the more established but still young orchard. The pears behind have already shed their blossom.

Promise of good things to come

Cork Harbour views from the orchards, above and below


Checking on how the grafts are taking.

Keeping out the rabbits. "We thought at first we and the rabbits
were on the same hymn-sheet but soon found out they
had their own agenda."

In full bloom. Not a crab tree, but a wilding and one of the most promising they found in the hedgerows/
It is coming in for particular attention "grafting the bejasus out of it". "We're going to keep
the wild ones going, to include in our mix."

The tasting line-up (some of it!). "We work on what the year gives us."
"In the cidery, we do as little as possible to it."

Another view of Cork Harbour

This Killahora tree appears on the Pom'O label.


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dining Under A Gilded Dome At Killarney’s The Great Southern


Dining Under A Gilded Dome At Killarney’s Great Southern
The Garden Room (pic: Great Southern)


No doubt about it. You will look up, more than once, when you dine in the Garden Room, the principal restaurant in Killarney’s Great Southern Hotel. It is indeed a superb room in the old hotel, comfortably furnished and beautifully decorated and that high dome, with all that gold leaf, is eye-catching.

The food, by the way, isn't half-bad either, well presented too and served with a smile. Here you start with some of their breads (no charge) and a flavoursome amuse bouche. 
Pork Belly starter

Fancy a wine or a drink from the bar? No problem. Our wine, from the Duoro, was the Ferreirinha Esteva (30.00), a red blend, perfumed and intense, smooth on the palate, long and elegant on the finish, welcome at the table!

Cordal goats cheese is really making its mark in Kerry and in the Garden Room it is served, as a starter, in a lovely mousse with beetroot, saffron pears, candied walnuts, red cabbage purée and focaccia crisp.

Another impressive starter was the Lime and Chilli Crab Tian which consists of Crab Claws, red pepper coulis, and wasabi Mayo while another of the party was well pleased with the Wild Atlantic Seafood Chowder. A sorbet follows.

One of our group goes for the char-grilled sirloin of local Hereford Beef, served with shallot, mushroom, horseradish crème fraiche and Port Jus is your choice. Another picks the Ring of Kerry lamb.

The Carrigcleena Duck Breast may be incorrectly spelled on the menu but the dish itself is top of the class. Pan seared, it is served as a main course with carrot and ginger purée, curly kale, grilled asparagus, and sultan jus.

More top class poultry in the Supreme of Chicken (from Manor Farm), with sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan farce, lentils, pancetta crisp, roasted garlic jus. Four punters well satisfied, so satisfied in fact that nobody orders dessert!
Cordal cheese starter

I must admit I was rather tempted myself, especially by the day’s special: the Steamed Orange pudding - here the specials are conveniently listed on the menu. The Garden Rooms certainly support local and that is underlined by an excellent cheeseboard that includes Gubbeen, Cordal, Knockatee, and Cooleeny.

We were ordering from the Table d’Hote dinner, two courses for €36.50. So time to pay up and take a final look up at that amazing dome and head out through the Grand Foyer complete with grand piano.
Lamb

“Spectacular architecture melded with effortless service and genuine hospitality has made Great Southern Killarney an iconic retreat for over 160 years.” It has had its ups and downs in those years, but it seems to me that it is now, as part of the Hayfield family, once again on the up. Long may it continue.

Grey outside; gold inside!


Monday, May 14, 2018

The Strawberry Field Forever. Well, since 1997!


The Strawberry Field Forever. 
Well, since 1997!

Where can you find a royal flush of organic cinnamon, cardamon and ginger? An uplifting organic lemony zing with a flying finish? Guilty Pleasures? Where will you find a toilet seat in a strawberry shape? Where can you find “the biggest little treat in Kerry”?

I’ll tell you. Coming from Killarney towards Kenmare, turn right at Moll's Gap and, about four kilometres out the Sneem Road, you’ll find the Strawberry Field and its Pancake Cottage on your right. Call in, and you will see the first two above on the extensive Pukka Tea menu; the third is a menu list itself of delicious pancakes.

Believe it or not, this rural treasure has been here, not forever, but since 1997. Then Margaret and Peter Kerssens opened their family business, now very popular with locals and tourists alike. The farmhouse itself has stood here looking out over the Kerry mountains and valleys since the 1800s and these days it is both a restaurant specialising in pancakes and also a craft shop (includes oil paintings by Margaret).

The wood-burning soapstone stove  is a focal point in the front room and indeed has a tank directly on top where water is heated. Up to thirty may be seated in this room at the large benches and there is room for another dozen or so in the craft room. The pancakes range from savoury to sweet, are pan-fried and made to order.

And there is quite a menu, ranging from a Simplicity section (eg bacon and cheddar) to Speciality (like smoked Irish salmon, leeks, spinach leaves and sour cream). There is a Classic Selection (think lemon and honey), the Guilty Pleasures (which also includes Nutella), and Fancy Fruity to finish with.

It was misty when we arrived shortly after noon. We concentrated on the Speciality. I picked the pancake topped with a local Farmhouse Garlic Cheese, Leeks, Walnuts, Ballymaloe Relish. Super stuff and a lovely lunch at a fair price. And CL was also very happy with her Good Stuff pancake containing: quinoa, strawberries, cranberries, onion, apple, roasted seeds, kale/spinach, beetroot hummus.

We also had a bottled fruit drink each, both from Serbia, an Strawberry and Apple along with a Raspberry and Apple. The bill for the four items came to about twenty two euro.

What else? Well if you don’t like pancakes you may have Soup of the Day, scones or Dutch Apple Pie. Decent coffee (Giuljano) here too and no shortage of teas. We’ve been there twice in recent years but have yet to dine outside as the weather wasn't kind. Third time lucky?

Co. Kerry
+353 64 668 2977 (they don’t take reservations!)
Open 7 days a week from Saturday 24th of March - end of September.
Opening hours : 11 :00 am - 18:00. Please note : last orders for food at 17:15, last orders for drinks at 17:30

Also on this trip: Cahernane House Hotel

Killarney. A Quick Visit
Dining at The Garden Room in the Great Southern


Sunday, May 13, 2018

12 Tables & Tandem Winery. In vino veritas.


12 Tables & Tandem Winery
In vino veritas.

José María Fraile



In vino veritas. And truth to tell, there was good wine, good food and good company as some fifty diners enjoyed the Tandem Winery Tasting Dinner at the 12 Tables in Douglas last Wednesday. 
The welcome drink



The truth of another Latin saying, Dove regna il vino non regna il silenzio (Where wine reigns, silence does not) was also well illustrated on the night. 

But, what’s with all the Latin boy?

It is a theme at the Navarra based winery. Tandem itself is Latin for “finally” and nothing to do with bikes while the names of the individual wines are in Latin (or derived from it): Casual, Inmacula, Ars In Vitro, Ars Nova, Macula, Ars Memoria, and Inmune.




Tandem is of much more recent vintage than the ancient Latin tongue, founded in 2003 by by Alicia Eyaralar, José María Fraile and a small group of wine-loving relatives and friends. José was in the 12 Tables having left Pamplona at 5.00am that morning on a route that brought him to Cork via Madrid and London.

He was introduced by Nicolas Sicot of O’Brien’s Wines who import the Tandem wines. “I love organising these events, love to share the wines. It's great to meet the people behind the label and delighted to have José here. Dave Farrell has worked wonders and has come up with a great menu to go with the wines.”

José admitted to being delighted with the full house. “It is incredible. I hope you enjoy the dinner and the Navarra wine. I feel very humbled and proud; it would be hard to match this crowd in Spain!”
Duck

The vineyard is quite close to Pamplona and on the northern edge of the Navarra wine region. “We like freshness and elegance and luckily we’re in the coolest part of the appellation. It is super green where we are, a big contrast with the desert in the south. The Atlantic influence, the cool summer nights and picking late in the season is good for the grapes and we get that natural acidity.” We would soon see how that acidity helped with the food pairings.

Their rosé, or at least the very first version of it, was more or less an accident and hence the name Casual. A very enjoyable accident though, as we appreciated on arrival.

The kitchen, with chef-patron Dave Farrell at the head, produced an excellent starter: Serrano wrapped Monkfish, spiced crevettes, roast pepper purée, pistachios pickled samphire and Parmesan cream. And the wine was the Immacula (meaning without blemish), a blend of mostly Viognier and 15% Viura. It is fermented in French oak (not new) and kept on its fine lees for three months to gain texture and volume. “It is very successful for us and highly rated and there is nothing of it left at the winery.” We were on a winner.

Immune was the next wine, a 100% Garnacha paired with Gubbeen Chorizo, Ardsallagh Feta, Olive Tapenade, Romesco, Physalis and Avocado Oil. “Immune, to failure, to critics!”, joked José. “This is a powerful expression of the Garnacha (the vines are 70 years old and more); great depth and structure, a stunning wine that fills the palate.” He, and we, were enjoying the meal: “Amazing dishes.”

Up next was Jack McCarthy’s black pudding rosti, caramelised Radicchio, golden beets, wild mushroom, Crozier blue cheese and aged balsamic. Quite a lot going on in that plate and José had a favourite wine to match, the Ars in Vitro (art in glass), an unfiltered, unoaked wine with fruit and fragrance and a silky palate, raised for a minimum of two years. “How wine for me should taste,” remarked Jose. 

This 2014 has been raised in concrete. “Nowadays, concrete is accepted, the epoxy lining has made the difference, more complexity, more tannins, more colour, finesse and elegance.” It is a blend of Tempranillo and Merlot.




The wines and the food reached a high point with the main course. Jose introduced his Ars Nova, a 2014 blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, fresh, fruity and long. Ageing is a minimum 24 months in concrete vats plus 9 months in 300-litre French oak barrels. “More complex, more spice and great with lamb.”

Great too with duck as it turned out as the kitchen pulled out all the stops with Tea Brined Skeaghanore Duck breast, Almond and Apricot roulade, potato confit, charred onion, baby carrots and roast shallot purée. Quite a climax.

We eased out with a Trio of Artisanal Cheese with Fig Jam. The cheeses were Roquefort, Milleens and Tipperary Cheddar and the wine was Mácula, described as “a masculine wine of good length” and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from 2011. Tandem are slow to let their wines off to market. This, for instance, spends a minimum 24 months in concrete and 26 months in 300-litre French oak barrels.

José was delighted with the reception for his wines. “It has been an incredible dinner, fantastic being here. I'm so happy.” Nicolas thanked the kitchen and front of house at 12 Tables saying “We’ll do it again!”, a sentiment that went down well. In vino veritas.

You may view a video of José talking about Tandem and its wines here
Check the Tandem wines in stock at O’Brien’s website or just call in to Nico at their Douglas branch!
All the news, including menus, from 12 Tables in Douglas is here; also on their Facebook page.