Showing posts with label Irish National Stud. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Irish National Stud. Show all posts

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Meet Ireland’s Great Producers. Just a few of them!


Meet Ireland’s Great Producers
Just a few of them!
Cheesemaker Jean-Baptiste at Hegarty's

2018 Highlights now completed.
See below for brilliant National Stud visit;
A Taste of West Cork;
Life galore in the Irish Pub;
Michelin Stars, a trio this year;
Clonakilty's outstanding street festival;
Variations on the Irish Breakfast

Always manage to visit a few producers and 2018 was no exception; well, there were some exceptional visits, one to the innovative duo at the relatively new Killahora Orchards, the other to the well-established Hegarty Cheese in Whitechurch .

We were with a group of members of the Munster Wine & Dine who spent a very enjoyable May evening on a tour and tasting at Killahora Orchards near Glounthaune. 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. More here

I met Jean-Baptise Enjelvin, cheesemaker at Hegarty’s, a few times during the year before heading out to see him at work in Whitechurch on an October morning.When I arrive at Hegarty’s farm on the outskirts of Whitechurch, less than twenty minutes north of Cork City, I’m greeted by Dan Hegarty, the frontman for their magnificent cheddar cheese that has been snapped up by restaurants and retail customers alike over the past 16 years or so. 
Killahora Orchards

For the past three years, Dan has had the considerable help of French cheese-maker Jean-Baptiste who had been on duty from earlier that morning.  He helps me get my kit on and I start to note how he makes their Templegall, a Comté style cheese, which has been getting sensational reviews over the past few months. 

I try my best to stay out of his way as the work progresses from the milk to the tank to the wheel on the stand. Amazing combination of skill, knowledge and muscle and then a lot of patience (a year or so of it) before the cheese is ready. It is a high quality product so do watch out for it! More here

* If you are food or drink producer and would like me to do a post in 2019, do drop me a line at cork.billy@gmail.com
* A producer for every week; see the list of Great Irish Tastes 2018

National Stud/Japanese Gardens
One of Ireland’s Stand-out Visits
2018 Highlights continued...
Guide Aoife has a back-pocket treat for Hardy Eustace.  And he knows it!

Last June, we “did” a loop around the Midlands, taking in Mikey Ryan’s in Cashel, Birr Castle, a tour of Tullamore DEW, and a stay at the impressive Heritage Hotel in Killenard but the undoubted highlight was our visit, on the one ticket, to the Japanese Gardens and the National Stud.

The Japanese Gardens are small but perfect. Now over a hundred years old, it is still very much worth visiting. Some 120,000 visitors soak up the peace ad beauty here every year. They were devised by Colonel Walker and were laid out by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru between 1906 and 1910. Walker named one of his classic winning horses after Minoru.

Before, or after, visiting the stud, you can refuel in the Japanese Garden Café. Here, Ballymaloe-trained Natalie Collins and her manager Ronan Mackey take pride in offering simple, wholesome food with the emphasis on freshness and flavour. Local ingredients are used wherever possible. The restaurant is open 7 days.

By the way, the grounds of the National Stud rival the gardens for beauty. But it is the characters here that I’m inclined to remember, especially Hardy Eustace! Described in his highly successful racing career as a hell of a horse and a tenacious battler, the now twenty year old is described as a big baby by Aoife, our fantastic guide, as she feeds him polo mints and those “missing” sugar cubes. 

Indeed, we all help out, keeping our fingers straight as we make our offerings to the famous gelding. Also keep it relatively quiet, just in case the jealous Hurricane Fly, who shares the field, might hear. 
Aoife was brilliant, our guide of the year, and later she took us to see the stallions, the guys that pay her wages! You may read an account of the visit here
John Coll's Famine Funeral at Coming Home

Other excellent “visits” this year included Nano Nagle Place (Cork City) , Youghal’s Historic Clock Gate Tower  and the amazing Ewe Experience  in Glengarriff.


Best art experience of the year was Coming Home: Art and the Great Hunger  in Skibbereen.

A Rib around Bantry Bay
Just one of 250 events at A Taste of West Cork
2018 Highlights continued...

Ten days, 41 towns and villages, 8 islands, over 250 events. I’m talking about Ireland’s biggest and probably best food festival: A Taste of West Cork.

Impressive numbers indeed. But statistics only hint at the September story unfolding across the bays, the mountains, the hills and dales of the region. We dabbled a bit this year, as we regularly do and one of the highlights was the Indian Night in Richy’s of Clonakilty, another restaurant in the top echelon of this Michelin starred food-scape.

But the most fun that we had came down in Bantry, on a rib run by Diarmuid Murphy of the Fish Kitchen. The rib run and a fish dinner that evening were one of the official events for the festival. We weren’t quite sure why to expect when we booked - even thinking at one point that we’d have to fish for our dinner!

And, then as the clouds rolled in and the wind increased, we still weren’t sure as Diarmuid introduced us to his rib on the new marina in the bay. We put the gear on and soon we were bouncing out there on the bay. Exhilarating stuff even if our experienced skipper (we took just the one splash) decided against taking on the waves at either end of Whiddy Island and a trip across to see the liner in Glengarriff had to be abandoned.

But all the while he was filling us in - we two were his only passengers - on the geography and the amazing history of the bay: Wolfe Tone, the American flying boats on WW1 duty, the Eagle Pointers, Bantry House, the blue cliff, the Whiddy disaster and so much more including, of course, the mussel farming in the huge bay. He is a superb guide to the area and no wonder he is thinking of running this as a tourist attraction in the summer of 2019. Keep an eye out for that! Once I have details, I’ll post them here on the blog.


About two hours later, we were back on dry land. Time then for a rest and a shower before heading to the Fish Kitchen in the heart of Bantry for a delicious meal, enjoyed with a communal table that, by pure chance, included Esther and Joe Barron from the famous bakery in Cappoquin. A great afternoon trip and a terrific evening.

Life Galore in the Irish Pub
2018 Highlights continued...
Hot in the city. Galway in July.

We visited Galway in the high heat of the amazing summer, met some lovely people and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly everywhere we went and that included a visit to Michelin starred Aniar, strolls in the narrow streets, a cooling (not really!) cruise on the Corrib and on the huge lake (biggest in the Republic) but the memory that stands out was our visit to a pub!

We’ve been in some  memorable pubs in recent times, Dick Mack’s (with its micro brewery) in Dingle,  Reidy’s with its uncountable corners and crannies in Killarney, the Swagman and its amazing host Dale in Sligo, and a few more but the King’s Head in Galway is out on its own.

Well worth a call. And there is a bistro here that serves excellent local food - enter through a small archway off the city’s Latin Quarter. Chef Brendan Keane is a keen local and seasonal operator and hopefully Sorcha will be on duty to fill you in on the menu and the specials.

Afterwards, find your way to the adjoining pub and get a seat, by the stage if you want to get close up to the music or maybe by the bar. Our second night was by the bar, excellent choice of drinks here including local craft beers. 
Cocktail time!

And they have an impressive cocktail list here and put on quite a show as they get them ready. In the meantime, you’ll find yourself chatting to customers from all over the place. It won’t be a quiet chat - the music will be loud and lively, just like the street outside. Life con brio.

Another memorable pub was found just a few miles north-east of Cork city. O’Mahony’s of Watergrasshill operates only at weekends but do get there for the food and the fun if you are anywhere close. 


Máire and Victor (you’ll know him from the House Café at the Opera House) have given this two hundred year old pub a new lease of life, the emphasis very much on local food and drink. Old cow sheds have been converted into use - there is a stage in one - as venues for concerts and weddings. New soul in the old stones and well worth a visit for its lovely food and lovely people.

Michelin Stars in a Row.
More to follow!
Daikon, bamboo shoot (Ichigo ichi

Michelin stars are like the No. 8 bus (sorry, it’s 208 now, ask Billy Murphy of the Young Offenders); you wait, and wait, and then three come together. Just three? There are a few more waiting in the wings.

The anointed threesome in Cork (Ichigo Ichie, The Mews, and Chestnut) are now well-known but I’ve been flirting with a few others. Reckon Pilgrims should be up there with a bib at least while Bastion should be up a notch from the bib. Missed out on Dillon's but on the list for 2019! Enjoyed myself in both of them in 2018 and the highlight was the meal in Ichigo Ichi - before it got the star.
Pollock, pine, at Aniar


Outside of Cork, Aniar (star) and Aldridge Lodge (bib) were also visited this year. By the way, if you’re lucky enough to dine and get one of the three rooms to overnight in Aldridge, consider yourself doubly lucky as breakfast here is also a star treat!


Festivals: Amazing Street Fest in Clon!
2018 Highlights

Food and food related festivals continue to pop up all over the country. Relatively new ones, such as FEAST in East Cork, are thriving, along with well established events such as A Taste of West Cork. The Old Butter Road Festival, mainly in North Cork, enjoyed a good year. Didn’t get to too many outside of Cork this year but had a quick and appetising day trip to Harvest Festival (to a Blaa event) in Waterford city.

There was quite an excellent Cheese festival too at the Cork Airport Hotel, a great cheese dinner on one night and some new cheeses on display in the many stalls on the following days. And the regular long-table was again a huge hit on Cork’s South Mall with over 400 diners.


For me though, the festival where food and fun totally and seamlessly combined was the Clonakilty Street Carnival. Long tables galore here on the main street, even one for the kids. Much more for the young folks too with games and music. Music too on various platforms for the attendees in general. And very impressive numbers with over 2,000 adults fed, by the town’s leading restaurants, for fifteen euro a head!


Variations on the Irish Breakfast
2018 Highlights
Plaice Plus at Aldridge Lodge

In the queue at Nash 19 the other day (coffee and scone for me), I was drooling at the elements of the Full Irish inside the counter. I already had had breakfast but those rashers and sausages etc certainly looked very good indeed. Another excellent one, that I fully enjoyed, was served in mid-summer at De Barra Lodge near Rosscarbery

Rarely go out for breakfast so it’s mostly in hotels and B&Bs that I sample the traditional Full Irish. Sometimes, I ask for the cut-down version: “one of everything”. 

And sometimes I ask for the fish, if there is one. 

Increasingly, there is a fish option. The very best (usually plaice, served simply) is to be found in the Garryvoe Hotel or its cousin across the bay, the Bayview. Superb stuff, especially if you’d had a hard night.

Last month, I had the good luck to dine and stay in Aldridge House on the beautiful Hook Peninsula in County Wexford. I will soon be publishing a full post on the dinner and the stay. I had an inkling that the breakfast would be good.

And when owner-chef Billy Whitty told me plaice was on the menu, I jumped at it. They have a Michelin bib here and Billy improved on the simple plaice, turning it into a marine version of the Full Irish.

Very hard to beat his magnificent plate of fresh and delicious plaice that came with a poached egg (choice of hen or duck), tomatoes and a Portobello mushroom. All that after a terrific starter of a yogurt pot with hazelnuts and raspberry. 

Pancakes are also very popular around the country at breakfast time and I’ve enjoyed a few in recent months, the best hotel offering probably that at the lovely Lyrath Estate in Kilkenny. 

The very best though came closer to home, in the spring, at the Crawford Gallery Café where they served up American style buttermilk pancakes, with delicious bacon, yogurt, blueberries and bananas and Maple syrup of course. Amazing flavours and textures. Simply irresistible! 
Pancakes at the Crawford Gallery Café
No bacon at another excellent Cork venue, the terrific Good Day Deli. But, early in the year, they had excellent Poached Pear Pancakes with coconut mascarpone and a drizzle of Irish honey. A morning winner from this sustainable foods champion. Another non-meat venue is the Candied Hazelnut in Waterford and here I enjoyed their Blueberry Pancake Stack with Maple Syrup.

Will the plaice or the pancakes displace the Full Irish? Maybe not on their own but there are other factors at play here and you can expect to see even more variety on the Irish breakfast plate.

* Have you a great breakfast offering? Email: cork.billy@gmail.com

Monday, June 18, 2018

24 Hours on a Midlands Loop. Heritage Hotel - Mikey Ryan’s - DEW - Birr Castle - National Stud-Japanese Gardens


24 Hours on a Midlands Loop
Heritage Hotel - Mikey Ryan’s - DEW
Birr Castle - National Stud-Japanese Gardens
Small waterfall in Birr castle grounds

 With the improvements in Ireland’s roads, one can pack a lot into twenty four hours as our recent run illustrates, from Cashel to Birr to Tullamore to Laois and then a grand finalé in Kildare.
Here's looking at you. Birr's Giant Telescope


When you’re on tour, even one as short as this, you need a good base. We had an excellent one in the Heritage Hotel in Killenard on Co. Laois, just a couple of minutes from the motorway, ideally situated for all our visits.
In the lobby of the Heritage

There is an amazing 4-storey staircase (left) here, based, we’re told, on that of the Titanic and exceedingly popular for wedding photos. Indeed, there are very expensive special overhead lights installed to help achieve the best shot.

The lobby and that staircase are indeed spectacular and the whole enterprise speaks of space and comfort. There is a magnificent high-ceilinged dining room, the Arlington, and the food is top class. You may also dine in the Slieve Bloom Bar. No craft beer here but they do have plenty of gins including a few local ones, Brennan’s and the more impressive Mór.

Breakfast is also taken in the Arlington and again it is impeccable. There is even a generous display of breads and cereals for coeliacs. Staff are very friendly throughout and even volunteered directions as we headed off in the morning.

Had been tipped off about Mikey Ryan’s, the relatively new Gastro-pub in Cashel, and that was our first call on the way from Cork. Very impressed and enjoyed a lovely lunch there.

An hour or so later and we were in Birr, heading for the castle and grounds. It has no dedicated parking so you park across the way and, by the way, you pay seven days out of seven.

There is a separate tour of the castle, but only in the mornings. The grounds are well kept but I love how the meadows are allowed grow, especially the wildflowers. You’ll have no problems finding your way around.


The arches

One of the highlights for us was undoubtedly The Great Telescope, built by the 3rd Earl of Rosse in 1845 and, for over 70 years, the biggest in the world. It is still an amazing sight, still impressive.


Natural light

Wisteria 100 years+
The Spring Wildflower Meadows have not been ploughed since at least 1620 and look out also for a couple of ancient oaks, The Carroll and the Meridian (both about 500 years old).

Make your way to the formal gardens and the amazing hornbeam arches, in the form of cloisters, with “windows” cut out of the hedges. And another highlight is the Wisteria, over 100 years old. It flowers impressively in May-June so we timed our visit well! Close by is the Moon Gate celebrating the family’s links with China.

Lots more to see here; no shortage of facilities either, including a café.

Back to the car then and the flat drive to Tullamore for a tour and tasting at the DE Williams refurbished bonded warehouse (they have a new distillery on the outskirts of the town). No parking though at the warehouse - you’ll have to take pot luck in the area. We found the tour efficient rather than engaging before trying three of the whiskies at the end: the original, the 12 year old reserve, and the 15 year old Trilogy (my favourite). More on our DEW visit here.

Our final destination was the National Stud and the Japanese Gardens, two names but one place, one ticket. One outstanding visit, check out our excellent experience here. After a lot of walking and listening, we enjoyed lunch in the lovely airy café onsite before hitting the motorway and heading home.
Japanese Gardens
See also, from this visit:
National Stud and Japanese Gardens
More Photos of Visit to National Stud and Japanese Gardens
Mikey Ryan's Cashel

Sunday, June 10, 2018

You’ll be well fed at National Stud and Japanese Gardens. Unless Hardy Eustace gets there before you!


You’ll be well fed at National Stud and Japanese Gardens.
Guide Aoife has a back-pocket treat for Hardy Eustace.  And he knows it!
Unless Hardy Eustace gets there before you!

You’ll be well fed at National Stud and Japanese Gardens. And, if you find yourself short of sugar cubes, then you can blame Hardy Eustace, one of the stars of a recent visit to the beautifully laid put National Stud. The Japanese Gardens may be a big attraction here but the beauty of the adjoining stud grounds is also hard to match.

Hardy Eustace was described in his highly successful racing career as a hell of a horse and a tenacious battler but the now twenty year old is described as a big baby by Aoife, our fantastic guide, as she feeds him polo mints and those “missing” sugar cubes. Indeed, we all help out, keeping our fingers straight as we make our offerings to the famous gelding. Also keep it relatively quiet, just in case the jealous Hurricane Fly, who shares the field, might hear.
Invincible Spirit


But the geldings are more for show here. The really productive  guys, as you’d expect, are the stallions and soon we are introduced. The star is undoubtedly Invincible Spirit. “He pays my wages,” laughs Aoife as she tells us about the €120,000 fee you have to hand over to have your mare covered by this guy.

As we speak, mares are being driven up. “It’s like McDonald’s here at times,” she jokes. The mares have been medically tested and are also “showered” and fitted with special shoes (in case they kick out when mating). It is not Invincible’s turn today though and he doesn't seem to be too happy about that.
Sea of Stars

Astrology is a word that crops up a fair bit during the tour, including both at the start and at the end. At the start there is a double sculpture in honour of Colonel William Hall Walker who bought this Tully estate in 1900. He had a fascination for Asia (hence the Japanese gardens) and astrology. He used the stars to determine the future course of his horses - if the star signs were bad at birth, the foal was sold, no matter what the breeding. 

Despite much criticism, he went on to be one of the most successful breeders of his time, winning classic after classic. More recently, Sea The Stars was another classic winner and there is a sculpture in his memory, unveiled by the Queen in 2011. It is called Sea of Stars and contains astrological symbolism.

There is a more down to earth souvenir of the great Arkle: his skeleton! There is much more to see here and when your guided tour is over, you are welcome to explore at your leisure.

Most visitors though will end up in the Japanese Gardens at some stage during their visit. It is not the biggest in the world, far from it but, now over a hundred years old, it is still very much worth visiting. Some 120,000 visitors soak up the peace of the gardens every year. They were devised by Colonel Walker and were laid out by Japanese master horticulturist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru between 1906 and 1910. Walker named one of his classic winning horses after Minoru.

It is not only the stallions that are well looked after here. The in-foal mares, many of them paying guests in their last month, are checked every twenty minutes! NHS please take note.

Some other facts from our guide:
covering dates start on, believe it or not, Valentine’s Day;
gestation period is 11 months;
every single foal is officially born on January 1st;
there is no A1 in the racing industry. That would spoil all the fun; 
resident stallion Tommy The Tease checks that each mare is ready but then has to step aside for the big name stallion. Tommy has the consolation of two covers a year, a poor enough return.
The Colonel reached for the stars


After all that walking around, or maybe in between, you’ll need some sustenance and you’ll enjoy some good stuff in the Japanese Gardens Café (it also serves the National Stud - both attractions are on the one ticket and adjoin each other). The café building has Japanese features and has lots of seating.

Ballymaloe-trained Natalie Collins and her manager Ronan Mackey takes pride in offering simple, wholesome food with the emphasis on freshness and flavour. Local ingredients are used wherever possible. The restaurant is open 7 days, 09h00 until 17h00. Lunch served from 12h00 to 16h00 daily.

You may have a hot lunch eg Roast Loin of Pork served with creamy leeks. Or a hot sandwich such as Chicken bacon tomato cheddar & mayonnaise. Maybe all you need is a cuppa and a pastry (of which there’s quite a choice).

We had enjoyed a good breakfast at the nearby Heritage Hotel so didn’t need anything major at lunchtime. We both went for the Chicken Caesar Salad: sliced chicken, bacon lardons, croutons, parmesan cheese, cos lettuce and dressing. Two slices of excellent brown bread were included with this option. We added a couple of local fruit drinks - I got Raspberry and Elderflower - and a pair of delicious Portuguese tarts. Lots of water too as it was a hot day. Ready for road after that!
More photos of the visit here
Also on this visit:
Mikey Ryan's Cashel
Tullamore DEW Whiskey Tasting
More Photos of Visit to National Stud and Japanese Gardens
Something sweet at the café. Don't tell Hardy Eustace!