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Top chef Kevin Dundon circulated among the visitors to his Dunbrody House Hotel Market last Sunday and we had a chat as we bought some of his conserves and relishes. He’s particularly proud of his Lemon Curd and the Brandy Butter. Lots of other food on offer too from local producers and no shortage of Christmas crafts either in the cluster of yards and sheds.
Dunbrody House is in a wooded area above the small fishing village of Authorstown. The market is on every Sunday from noon until 4.00pm. It was packed at the weekend with both car parks close to full. And if you want to take a break from the shopping, then you may relax in the onsite pub with a drink and live music.
We had started the weekend a day earlier in Wexford town itself with its narrow busy streets. After the morning trip from Cork, a spot of brunch was in order and we found a good one in Button and Spoon, just a few steps up Church Lane from the quay. Excellent food and friendly people there.
Had a look around after that and called to Greenacres to do some Christmas shopping. Not difficult at all in that well-stocked emporium and a good amount of Irish produce, such as Bean and Goose Chocolate, Melanie Harty’s jellies and Tom Cowman’s Wexford Honey, included. And if you’re a sportsperson, you’ll note the sculpture of local hurling hero Nicky Rackard in an action pose on the street outside.
Not Nicky Rackard!
Headed north then, up along the coast until we came to the Strand Inn which has a fantastic position overlooking the sea and the pier at Cahore. They too put the emphasis on local (including Yellow Belly Beer) and there’s a fine menu there - I enjoyed my plate of Prawn Pil Pil as the daylight began to retreat. Must go back in the summer-time!
Our destination for the night was the Ashdown Park Hotel on the edge of Gorey and, after a warm welcome, we took a break here for an hour or two. We had a table booked at Table 41 on Main Street, about a ten minute walk away. A very tight menu in this upstairs venue but quite good food on offer and friendly service in this relatively new venue.
Back in the hotel bar, we were disappointed to find no craft beer at all, not even a bottle of any of the local brews. They did have some Irish gins though and we had a bit of a “tasting” with Blackwater, Drumshanbo and Short Cross in the mix. Breakfast was nothing to write home about.
Actually, there’s a much better brunch menu, believe it or not, in the cafe at the Hook Head Lighthouse, and it’s available all day Saturday and Sunday. They have upped their game here, as should all visitor attractions. Places like Good Day Deli (in Nano Nagle Place) and the Café in Cork’s Crawford are excellent examples. Some not so good that I can think of are the Skellig Visitor Centre on Valentia and Spike Island, unless they’ve improved over the last 12 months or so.
The weather was mainly cloudy and very windy at the Hook and that meant it was quite spectacular, a great day to visit! Even if we had to work our way through spray flying across the narrow approach road from time to time. Indeed, there is a wooden “rampart” by the lighthouse and we got an invigorating splash or two as we took in the views from that vantage point.
Dunbrody was our next stop and, after that, we came back down, just a few minutes drive, to Aldridge Lodge (near Duncannon). This is a Michelin Bib restaurant with just three rooms and luckily we had one booked.
Yogurt from the breakfast bar at Aldridge Lodge
Everything was just perfect here, from the warm welcome by owner and chef Billy Whitty to the fantastic evening meal based hugely on local, even family, produce. No full bar here so no draught or whiskey. But no shortage (they carry the local Cleverman beers) and we finished the pleasant evening with a drop of the Stonewell Tawny.
We would leave the following morning but not before a treat of a breakfast.The plaice was served with a poached egg (hen or duck), mushroom and tomato. It was a great start to the day. Time then to say goodbye to this highly recommended place and head to the village of Ballyhack to take the ferry to the Waterford side (8 euro single trip); we were home in less than two hours overall after two great December days in the Model County!
In some multi-starred hotels, the fuss they make of you is about as genuine as a Trump tweet. Not the case in the 10 room Courtmacsherry Hotel. Here, the chats are warm and real. You feel you’re part of a social club, you’re not a stranger here.
How about this for social? On a recent Saturday, May 19th, they were catering for a wedding, two communion settings and, yes, two matches on the big screen. And the season hadn’t really started yet. They admit they are struggling a bit to finish off renovations before they go full-time on June 1st. In May, it is open just Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I was kind of sorry that I wasn't around there on the Saturday but had a great time in Courtmac and surrounds on the sunny Friday. We got that real down to earth Irish welcome and were soon shown up to room number six.
By the way, if you are booking in here, do ask for a front facing room. Number six has three fairly large windows and two of them have views over the magnificent Courtmacsherry Bay. The renovations hadn't passed it by either and it had all we needed: tea-making facilities, bottled water, new carpet and mat, and a very comfortable bed.
On the way in, there were dozens of people enjoying themselves, not in the hotel's Seven Heads Bar, but in the sun outside, dining and drinking. The hotel building, which dates from Victorian times (you’ll note those high ceilings), provided shelter and also reflected the sun back to diners and drinkers. There is a lovely old tree in the middle of the manicured lawn and lots of rustic style tables and chairs there as well.
On the way down from the city, we had stopped at Kilbrittain (mainly to see the huge skeleton of the fin whale), taken a stroll on the gorgeous beach at Dunworley and had reacquainted ourselves with the bluebells and wild garlic in full flower in Courtmacsherry Wood.
A week earlier, we had dined at the excellent Lifeboat Inn and had spotted their garden and terrace overlooking the bay. It was too cold to sit out on that occasion but we weren't going to miss out this time. Strolled down through the village and called to the Inn. Soon we were out on the terrace, enjoying the splendid views and also enjoying a well deserved pint of ale from Black’s Brewery in Kinsale.
We would renew our support of local in the Seven Heads that night with a gin, also from Black’s. They are not just a brewery, you know, as they also produce this excellent gin and more recently a rum! Later, I said I’d try out another gin from Shortcross, one I hadn’t tried before. The lady serving got a bit of a shock when she keyed it in and saw it was costing €10.50 a shot! Something wrong there, I thought, this must be some kind of super-premium. But it was late, the gin was in the glass with the ice so I went ahead with it. An excellent drop indeed but not worth that much! So maybe you'd better check the price if you are ordering it there!
While most of the day to day eating is done in the bar, or outside if the sun shines, breakfast is taken in the eye-catching Cork Tree Bar with its recently exposed original stone walls and unusual candelabras. And it is a very good breakfast indeed. If you like the Full Irish, you’ll get it here, even a mini version if you'd prefer. Plenty of variety with various eggs dishes, waffles also, and kippers. I went for the Scrambled Eggs with the top notch Ummera Smoked Salmon.
Very happy with that. And very happy too with their buffet table. Some great fruit there including fresh strawberries (I assume they were Bushby’s but I didn’t ask), good choices of juices, and also brown bread and tempting pastries and service was friendly (as ever) and efficient too, just one lady keeping the show going without any fuss whatsoever.
And, as we left on Saturday morning, heading for a final walk in the woods and then a visit to Bandon Farmers Market, the staff were getting the outside area spic and span for the visitors (while the bouncy castle was being readied for the kids). The soft covers, having been removed overnight, were being replaced on the chairs and the parasols were being put in place. Another sunny day ahead, another busy one at the friendly little hotel. And hopefully many more in the season ahead.
Just in case you can’t get a booking here in the 3-star hotel, why not try their holiday cottages situated in front of the magnificent woodland and overlooking the bay. All the cottages have central heating, two spacious bedrooms (sleeping 6+) and two fully tiled bathrooms with shower downstairs, towels and linen are supplied.
There is a barbecue area where you can sit out and enjoy the view in a relaxing atmosphere. The cottages come with parking, garden, free Wi-Fi and use of hotel facilities when it is open.
Gin’s popularity is on the increase. And, from being the drink for parents and grandparents, it has found a younger audience.
What are the reasons for the increase in popularity? I asked Michael Creedon of Bradley’s in North Main Street (who have 35 gins in stock and are still expanding the range). His list:
Somewhat like the craft beer explosion, when people spend their hard earned money now, they like to get a return in quality, flavour and taste experience – bang for your buck if you will, with quality taking precedence over price/quantity.
The emergence of smaller, craft Irish distilleries has increased the overall interest in gin.
The great diversity in flavour between gins. If you taste 20 different gins, you will quite literally experience 20 different taste sensations.
It is, of course, a very versatile drink available in a variety of interesting flavours and a
bartender can do a million things with it. Cocktails by the score for example.
Gin is also a spirit that lets small-scale distillers get creative.They have the ability to use different botanicals. All this leads to much greater variation than you'd get with vodka.
No shortage of creativity among the new Irish distillers. Most people will know about the botanicals that go into gin, including the essential juniper. The Saint Patrick’s gin is based on alcohol derived from potatoes while Highbank’s comes from the apples in their organic orchards and they use botanicals from their farm. Blackwater have matured gin in Juniper casks.
There is a massive amount of potential and some really interesting products are now on the market as the rise in the number of new producers in the UK is being replicated here. And not just here and in the UK; Germany, USA and Australia have also reported a big rise over the past two or three years.
Good to see the new Irish producers involved. Michael argues that the new producers “need to stand out from the crowd with smart packaging and innovative use of various botanicals and flavours. For example, St. Patrick's Distillery have an Elderflower Gin in their range.”
But is all the new gin up to standard? Sometimes, in a new distillery there is more interest in the whiskey. But while waiting the required three years and a day for the whiskey to mature, they use gin as a revenue earner. Do you they rush it out or do they give the gin enough attention so that it can be a long term proposition for them?
Michael Creedon thinks the producers take their gin seriously: “While some gin producers also have the ultimate goal of producing whiskey, this does not have an adverse effect on the quality of the gin. On the contrary, to ensure they maintain a good reputation they put everything into the quality of their gin."
Desmond Payne, the Master Gin Distiller at Beefeaters, says gin and tonic is a marriage that works but there are many more ways to mix. “At present, there is a revival in cocktails, some fantastic ones nowadays. Gin is right back in fashion. Some gin bars in Spain have up to 300 brands (and 50 tonics) on offer and new distilleries are popping up everywhere. There are new gins coming out sometimes that try too hard. You can't change everything at once!”
There is a huge variation in the price per bottle. Does that always reflect quality? Michael: “Higher price does not always mean a better gin as limited supply and difficulty of sourcing will also affect price, however every gin will have its own flavour profile, so it's definitely worth experimenting!”
What are the more popular gins in Bradley’s?
Irish - Dingle, Blackwater and St. Patricks.
International Gins under €40 - Plymouth, Beefeater 24, Bombay Sapphire.
International Gins over €40 – Hendricks, The Botanist, Bathtub Gin.
With all the new and old gins on the market, packaging is more important than ever?
Michael: “Gin, in general as a category, comes in particularly smart packaging and this is something very important for new producers to keep in mind. Consumers buy with their eyes firstly but come back for the quality and taste of course!”
As Desmond Payne said at Ballymaloe LitFest, gin and tonic is a marriage made in heaven. But which tonic goes with which gin? What are the most popular tonics sold in Bradley’s?
Michael: “The quality of the tonic you use, it being the most popular mixer for gin, has become very important to consumers. Schweppes is still the traditional tonic used in Ireland but we have an ever increasing demand for tonics such as Fever Tree, 1724 and our most popular variety, Fentiman's.
Fentiman's is most popular, we believe, because it offers 3 varieties in the range – standard, light or herbal tonic water. Experimentation is all part of the fun to see which one you like yourself.
We have also recently added a tonic syrup to our range. The usual mix is one part syrup, 2 parts gin and 3 parts soda/sparkling water. However, these quantities can be played with to get the perfect mix for you! We currently carry Bradley's Tonic Syrup from American but have just recently discovered a tonic syrup produced here in Galway. We are very excited about this and will be adding it to our range very shortly!”