Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Downings. A Great Base for Donegal Visit

Downings. Delightful Base for Donegal Visit
Sunset on Sheephaven Bay


From previous experience, we knew that the beachside village of Downings is a terrific base for visiting much of Donegal. It is on the lovely compact Rosguill peninsula and the spectacular Fanad Lighthouse is less than 30 minutes away. 
Glenveagh National Park

Glenveagh National Park is also about half an hour's drive  while Bunbeg and Burtonport, with ferry connections to the islands, are an hour's trip or so. Letterkenny, the largest and most populous town, is also within easy reach. And there's a myriad of smaller attractions up and down the coast.
An old loom in McNutt Tweeds in Downings. Exquisite products on sale here.

About six years ago, we stayed in a small cottage in the hill above the village. This time, our room in the Rosapenna Hotel and Golf Resort was as big as the cottage - no kidding! Again, there are other hotels in the area and lots of guesthouse and B&Bs.

The Rosapenna is best known for its two golf courses and you'll see many golfers around the restaurant and the bar. Fantastic public spaces in the hotel where you can sit and relax and recall the birdies and the bogeys of the round.
In 2007, this six inch gun was recovered by Downings divers from the SS Laurentic, a liner that hit two German mines and sunk off Fanad head with the loss of 354 lives in 1917. The gun now stands on the Downings Pier as a memorial.


Downings Beach is an expansive one on the shore of Sheephaven Bay and the hotel dining room has terrific views over the bay as did our room with its balcony facing in the right direction.
Tide is out in the bay. You can see the Rosapenna reflected in the shallow waters

There's a good range of food outlets up and down the village, ranging from the hotels to the inexpensive McNutt's cafe (popular with families) over by the pier. We had been looking at something in between and enjoyed a terrific meal at the busy Grape and Grain. The following evening, we had a superb fish dinner at Fisk, another busy spot.

The Sticky Toffee Monkfish with bok choi, saffron and wild rice was a winner at Grape & Grain, the sauce adding a touch of sweet and sour and the wild rice was terrific. Enjoyed this very much indeed while CL's Slow Roasted Duck Leg, plum sauce with potato gratin, also hit the spot. 
We enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere here and went all three courses. This Crème Brulée with lemon meringue ice-cream was top notch. The Apple and Rhubarb Crumble with French vanilla ice-cream was another winner
The Grape & Grain (left), with their Creperie alongside, on the main street in Downings, a village very popular with visitors from across the border. We enjoyed a couple of the Kinnegar beers on draught in this lively restaurant about a ten minute walk from the hotel. They also have a decent wine list and no shortage of cocktails. And also a very helpful and pro-active barman!

Lots of people in the south never get to Donegal and that's a shame. Roads have been improved over the years and six hours will get you from Cork city to Donegal. 

Do take a break though. On the way up, Tête a Tête in Ballyshannon is recommended. On the way home, call to The Gallery in Gort or perhaps to the nearby Coole Park where they have a café and where you can soak up the history (be sure and check out the autograph tree) and stretch your legs at the same time.

Sometimes, we bring a snack with us. If you'd prefer not to leave the motorway between Limerick and Tuam and you have a sandwich in the bag, then you might like to know there is a parking area close to Gort. Just parking, mind you, no facilities whatsoever, but you'll be able to snack, and stretch those legs.

Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
 Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Something fishy going on in Donegal
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro
Malin Head, Fanad and Rosguill Peninsulas

Monday, August 19, 2019

Jutting into the Wild Atlantic. Delightful Pieces of Donegal


Jutting into the Wild Atlantic. Delightful Pieces of Donegal

Jutting into the Wild Atlantic are three of the most beautiful pieces of Donegal: Inishowen, Fanad (and it’s spectacular lighthouse) and the petite and pretty Rosguill. Inishowen, with Ireland’s most north-westerly point Malin Head, is the biggest, Fanad (and it’s spectacular lighthouse) is next to the west and then comes tiny Rosguill (a micro-version of the others).

Malin, aside from the remains of an old signal tower and some more modern and equally wrecked Irish army lookout sheds, has no buildings on the head. But it does have Ireland’s most north-westerly bakery and coffee shop parked right up there. Also a curious sign saying Eire 80, a wartime note to German pilots saying that this is Ireland and keep your bombs at bay. These white-painted signs, designed to be read from the sky, were all around the country. Malin though has plenty of walks around the head, all nicely laid-out and signposted. The views are spectacular.

One of the Malin walks
And, in the nearby village, it has one of the most innovative cafés in the country in Wild Strand where seaweed is the essential ingredient.

Having reached Malin, you need to drive all the way back down towards Letterkenny to get to Fanad. You can also shorten the trip a bit by taking the ferry from Buncrana across Lough Swilly to Rathmullan. In any event, the ferry times didn’t suit us on the day so we drove the long way and then all the way up to Fanad.

Sat-Nav wasn’t cooperating that much and we had to rely on the road signs and eventually we were on the long road in. Thought we might be late for the last tour but there were a few more scheduled. Bought our tickets and walked up to the lighthouse. Like quite a few other lighthouses, Fanad now has apartments to rent.

We didn’t disturb those residents though as we took the tour. Our guide gave us the history telling us that, after a two-year build period, it got its first light in 1817 but had no electricity until, believe it or not, 1975. In between, the biggest storm that struck was Debbie in 1961. By 1978 only a Principal Keeper was retained in Fanad, and when he retired in 1983 the lighthouse was reclassified as an Attendant station and the retired Principal Keeper remained on as part time Attendant. Now there is just a caretaker.
Fanad

We climbed the 79 cantilevered steps to the top and, from behind a glass enclosure, took in the views all around, especially Malin Head to the east and Tory Island to the west. We were shown four tiny bulbs, hardly as big as my little finger, in the lamp. But these are powerful little fellows and their light shines over 18 nautical miles, just over 33 kilometres.

The two wrecks whose memory is enshrined in local folklore are those of the Saldanha in 1811 and the Laurentic in 1917. The Saldanha, a Royal Navy Frigate of 38 guns and a crew of about 300 men, was driven by a north-west gale on to rocks off Ballymastocker Bay on the night of 4 December 1811 and that led to the erection of the lighthouse.
Powerful little bulbs at Fanad

But the lighthouse was powerless to prevent the sinking of the armed merchant cruiser, the Laurentic, on on 25th January 1917, when it hit two German mines at the mouth of the lough and sank with the loss of 354 crew. A 6-inch gun from this ship was recovered a few years back and is now on display on the pier in Downings.
The gun from the Laurentic on the pier at Downings

Rosguill
Soon we were on the way to Rosguill, the journey cut short thanks to the Harry Blaney Bridge.  This spans Mulroy Bay (there is water everywhere here!) and connects the Fanad peninsula to Carrigart Village and Carrigart is just a few minutes from Downings at the neck of the Rosguill peninsula. 

Lying between the Fanad to the east and Horn Head to the west, Rosguill is surrounded by the Atlantic. Beautiful ocean panoramas, white beaches and even that distant Harry Blaney Bridge are among the sights you’ll see as you do the short circuit (12 km). Might walk that the next time! Small and pretty.
Harry Blaney Bridge

After a long day at the wheel, we were glad to check in at the Rosapenna and take it easy for a while before heading out for food (and a couple of glasses of Kinnegar beer) at the excellent Grape and Grain, reviewing the amazing sights we had seen and enjoyed that day in north Donegal.
The Rosguill drive
Also on this trip: Kinnegar Brewery
 Mary T. From Mallow to Donegal's Castle Grove
Something fishy going on in Donegal
Superb Day Out at Oakfield Park & Buffers Bistro
Downings. A Great Base for Donegal Visit

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Metropole Heritage Day Tour & Lunch


Metropole Heritage Day Tour & Lunch
This smart fellow
looks over the Lynch Suite


“The hotel was dry for the early decades,” concierge John Coleman (right) told our group as he took us on a Heritage Day tour of the Metropole Hotel, founded 122 years ago by the Musgrave family. The hotel quickly became known as The Met and the name endures. Guests around the turn of the century were mainly travelling salesmen.

What you may not have known, or may not remember, is that the ground floor of the building was given over to retail, with two shops on each side of the entrance. One of those, Hadji Bey, an Armenian that specialised in Turkish Delight, went on to become a Cork institution. Indeed, John told us The Met still serve the sweets,  now produced in Kildare rather than in Cork, to their guests.

The Met was also a great wedding venue, capable of handling up to seven weddings a day, wedding breakfasts in those days. I remember going there in the 1960s to a triple wedding featuring three sisters from the southside.

Afternoon tea?
John’s tour took us through some of the meeting rooms, all named after well-known writers. And there was a stop also at the Jack Lynch Suite to see the period detail, including an original radiator (still going strong). The current taoiseach has also stayed in this suite. Good views form the upper floors over the neighbours on MacCurtain Street. On the fourth floor we had a splendid views over the new Mary Elmes Bridge.

Pork
And John ensured we didn’t leave empty-handed as we were presented with a discounted offer on their classic afternoon tea and, after all those stairs (there was a lift too), we enjoyed their splendid homemade lemonade.

O'Flynn's Sausages
Last year, new owners (Trigon Group) spent millions on a refurbishment that included all the bedrooms, the new MET bar, restaurant and tea-room. Classy and comfortable is the result and do check out the snug too!

I had been checking the lunch menu here from time to time, thinking there was a nice bit of variety in the list and so, on Saturday, took the opportunity to try it out.
View over MacCurtain Street

Meeting rooms named
after famous writers
Just to give you an idea of the variety on offer, we could have had a Calamari Salad, a Classic Chicken Caesar Salad, a smoked Carrigaline Cheese, Fig and Onion  Tart (topped with crispy egg), the Mary Elmes Beef Brisket Burger and more.

All their beef is Irish and local producers such as Carrigaline above are supported. My pick was O’Flynn’s Pork and Sage Sausages with spicy roast red pepper and chickpea stew, crusty sourdough bread. 

The new Mary Elmes Bridge






Appropriately enough for Heritage Day I thought, as O’Flynn’s have been around long enough now to be considered part of the food heritage in these parts, a very enjoyable part indeed as Saturday’s lunch proved once again.

The Sticky Pulled Pork Sandwich with onions, toasted sourdough, fries, and a spicy slaw was CL’s choice and it too was excellent, full of flavour and the fries (which may not have been mentioned on the menu) were superb (I did steal a few).

Washed it all down with a glass of Murphy’s Stout, getting a little practice in for the upcoming Oyster Festival  that will be headquartered here in the Metropole but which will have events all over town and beyond from the 20th to the 22nd of September.

This Grand Old Dame of the Cork Victorian Quarter may well be 122 years old but she is still going strong, still able to teach the younger acts a hospitality trick or two. Well worth a visit!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Amuse Bouche


She had returned home…one afternoon to the smell of roast duck procured from Lai Chee Roast Chicken and Duck at the market. There was soup bubbling away… And fishcake, raw stuffed okra, silky tofu and straw mushrooms, all plated on the side, ready to be plunged into the boiling soup. Sweet tang yuan to round off the meal. Cutlery already in place. .. It had been years since they had shared a reunion dinner…. It took them a while to stop watching each other over the tops of their bowls and begin talking about their day.

from How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee (2019). Very Highly Recommended.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Golf for sure at Tulfarris but Wine and Dine Scores Well Also


Golf for sure at Tulfarris but Wine and Dine Scores Well Also
Toons Bridge Fior di Latte Mozzarella

Attention of golf fans will be focused on Tulfarris Hotel and Golf Resort at the end of the month, when The PREM Group Irish Masters takes place there from the 28th to the 30th. The Sky Sports cameras will be present, filming the action on the spectacular golf course and no doubt taking in the lovely Wicklow countryside. With the package being screened in 138 countries, the event should prove to be a major boost for the hotel and its golf course and also for tourism in the area and indeed in the country.

The course and hotel are looking splendid as I found out on a recent visit, arranged to highlight the golf tournament. PREM have spent some six million here in recent years and the majority of it has gone into improving the hotel and surrounds. And it shows. It is already a popular place. When we arrived late on a Sunday afternoon, we walked into the bar for a cuppa and were amazed at the buzz there. By the way, they have their own Tulfarris ale and it’s a pretty tasty drop.
Breakfast view from the restaurant

Thinking about it afterwards, the Tulfarris hotel is quite a handy base, not just for golf (by the way admission is free for the tournament at the end of the month) but also for visiting attractions in the area. It is just about twenty minutes from Exit 12 on the motorway and we used it to visit the Newbridge Silverware Visitor Centre and enjoyed the factory tour, the Museum of Style Icons, the shop (of course) and also a light lunch in the busy café, a stylish bright and airy place. 

The following morning, we called to Russborough House, just a few minutes away from Tulfarris, and did the full tour there. Finished up with a cuppa and pastry in the house café and, just over two hours later, were back in Cork.

Other places to visit with Tulfarris as a base, include Kildare Village, Punchestown Racecourse, the Wicklow Mountains (including the Sally Gap) and Glendalough. Of course, the Blessington lakes and the Poulaphouca reservoir are close by.

After all that mountain climbing, walking and shopping, you’ll need to refuel and Tulfarris will sort you out in the Lime Tree Restaurant which has great views over the golf course. Here, they promise a mix of world cuisine with the best of Irish. Indeed, Irish producers and suppliers are used as much as possible.

And I was able to check that out straight away with my starter: Toons Bridge Fior di Latte Mozzarella (Peas, mint, pea-shoots, Wicklow Rapeseed oil and crispy bread). Delicious. Meanwhile, CL was singing the praises of her Vine Ripened Tomato Terrine (Heritage tomatoes, basil emulsion, olives), quite different and also very tasty.
Elderflower semi-freddo

We were onto the wine now. Butterfly Ridge blends went down well. The Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon was vibrant, fruity and soft on the palate while the Riesling Gewürztraminer was a perfect match with the fish dishes on offer.

One was the Pan-roasted fillets of plaice with hazelnut, charred cauliflower and spinach, quite a delicious combination. Being in Wicklow, I couldn’t resist the local lamb served with courgette, goats cheese and elderflower. Another winner, especially with that red wine.
Wicklow lamb

Sleep well!
Would we have dessert? Of course! And they had some tempting ones of offer, including Eton Mess, Hazelnut mousse, Pannacotta. I choose the Baked Raspberry and White chocolate cheesecake while CL’s pick was the Elderflower semi-freddo (with gooseberries, oak crumb and elderflower jelly). Both were excellent but I think she may have picked the better one! 

Happy out with that, though we did have time enough for a few more chats, not all of them golf related, before the enjoyable evening came to a close!

We had a terrific ground floor room here, with lots of space and comfort (bed and armchairs), and everything we needed, including hair drier, iron, safe, coffee machine, large TV and faultless WiFi. The bathroom too was spacious, very well lit, separate bath and shower and excellent Elemis toiletries.

For more on The PREM Group Irish Masters, please check here.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Farmgate Café 25 Years On. Still Going Strong


Farmgate Café 25 Years On
Still Going Strong
Old Millbank salmon

When the Farmgate Café advertise for staff, they stress “it's a busy fast paced environment”. And it is. I saw for myself last Wednesday week (Aug 7th). No shortage of spaces when we arrived at 12.30pm but it was such a different story thirty minutes later. By then, the Dining Room was full and there was a queue for the Balcony, even a little queue to exit! Twenty five years after its founding, the English Market restaurant's food is as much in demand as ever.

We got a table in the glassed off Dining Room and were soon studying the menu and the specials on the board (which included plaice and corn beef). Service is friendly and efficient here and water was quickly delivered to the table along with some of their complimentary breads (delicious, as always) and Glenilen Butter.
Chicken Livers

Something on the lighter side was our target, so we passed on the mains of fish, the beef, the free-range chicken and the Irish Lamb Stew, all tempting and most sourced from the English Market below.

We could have nibbled on olives and on the addictive House Spiced Nuts (we had those during the Walk the Long Table stop here). In the end, I picked the Seared Chicken Livers with Marsala on sourdough toast (8.50). There was a well-dressed salad on the plate as well and it was a superb combination of flavour, texture, even colour.

You can get Irish beers here and European wines but I regularly go for their sparkling elderflower drink and we shared a carafe (4.50). There’s a great loyalty between the Farmgate and their suppliers so it was no surprise to see the Old Millbank Organic Irish Smoked Salmon (12.50) on the menu here and CL gave that a run and confirmed the offering was as good as ever.

One of the advantages of the smaller plates was that dessert could be accommodated!  There was a Pannacotta Special with strawberries up on the board but it was the regular Champagne and Elderflower Sorbet with West Cork Strawberries that tempted me. Must say I hit dessert jackpot with that one, so delicious I was half inclined to lift the bowl to my lips and drain the last drop of the melting sorbet!
Champion Sorbet!

Actually, there is a quite a long dessert menu here. Our other one was also cool and colourful: Lemon Tart and Raspberry Sorbet.  Did a bit of sharing there and that too was excellent but I still gave mine the nod as the best! Each cost  €5.90.

You may reserve a table in the Dining Room (table service) but not in the Balcony (counter service). The menu available in the Dining Room is mostly available too across the way and, in addition, you’ll be able to choose from soups, salads, toasted and open sandwiches, and a daily roast or two.

English Market
Princes Street
Cork
T12NC8Y
Ireland
local: 021 427 8134
international: 00 353 21 427 8134 
e: info@farmgatecork.ie (general enquiries)


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Classy Double in O'Brien's Summer Promotion


Classy Double in O'Brien's Summer Promotion
Must say I'm very happy with my picks from the O'Brien's summer promotion that runs right through to the end of August. This latest double highlights the quality available, especially the Amancaya (made even more attractive by the generous deduction). Check out my four earlier picks here.

Nicolas Catena and Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), vignerons since the 19th century, have combined their deep knowledge of Mendoza’s terroir and the art of winemaking to create Amancaya. This rich full-bodied red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon enhanced by the fruit of Argentinian Malbec. The Amancaya has been aged 12 months in French oak barrels (75% new oak).

The Catena family of Mendoza is correctly credited with helping to revive the industry there, according to Wines of South America. While attending university in Berkeley in the late 70s, Nicolás, Decanter’s Man of the year in 2009, learned much from Robert Mondavi. Bodegas Caro (1999) is a partnership with Domaines Barons de Rothschild and the operation focuses on classic red Bordeaux blends. Main label is Caro while Amancaya and Aruma are also highly regarded.

Colour is dark ruby, legs are slow to clear. Nose of rich dark fruits.Fruity, elegant, spicy, and persistent, one of good ones, more or less what you’d expect from the distinguished  families involved in its production. Ripe and rich with fine juicy tannins and that long finish, this is Very Highly Recommended.

The vineyard tell us that Amancaya is the native Indian word for a flower found high in the Andes mountains and is a fitting name for this floral and elegant wine. The traditional Malbec grape is masterfully blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and then aged 12 months in old oak barrels to give a European elegance. With expressive notes of red fruit, coffee and black pepper this is a complex and beautifully-balanced wine.



Colour is a bit more golden than your usual Chardonnay. Aromas of citrus and heady hints of blossom. The richness of this Highly Recommended wine continues to the palate and finish, yet this succulent drop, with its hint of muscat, is harmonious. Nothing jars from initial attack to fine minerally finalé. Importers O’Brien’s tell us it is a classic example of Saint-Véran with “an extra degree of richness and ripeness”.

Château-Fuissé is the benchmark estate of Pouilly-Fuissé. Currently managed by 5th generation winemaker Antoine Vincent, it combines traditional winemaking with carefully applied modern technology. The Saint-Veran vineyards of the Château-Fuissé are located in the north of the appellation and nearly touch the Pouilly-Fuissé zone. It is one of the few villages in Burgundy's Mâcon region that has the right to its own appellation. 

Pair with meaty fish, Pork Belly, Roast Chicken.

Check out my four earlier picks here.