Showing posts with label Wild Atlantic Way. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wild Atlantic Way. Show all posts

Monday, October 4, 2021

Limerick's Strand Hotel: Gateway to the city, the county and the coast.

Limerick's Strand Hotel: gateway to the city, the county and the coast.


It would be easy to say that the Strand Hotel is part of the fabric of Limerick City. And you’d be correct, to a degree. It stands foursquare on the Bunratty Castle side of Sarsfields’s Bridge with the mighty Shannon River flowing in front towards the Atlantic edge. Go up a storey or two and you see King John’s Castle and the much more modern Munster fortress of Thomond Park. Thomond Park and other local locations is where you see the European embrace.

But fabric, while it can be strong, pleasingly patterned and delightfully colourful, doesn’t quite describe this Limerick hotel. Might be too much to say that it is the heart of the city. Better maybe to describe it as an active organ  of the Treaty city. And proud of its engagement with people from the surrounding area.

Pigtown Plate

The river is hard to miss but let us dig a little deeper and we'll see another artery, not at the front but at the hotel's rear,  and this is where their food and drink supplies arrive. From the long-standing orchards of the Attyflin Estate come apples and some of the best juices around. Speaking "juice", you’ll see the beer from close neighbours Treaty City on tap in the hotel bar. 

I remember enjoying Cleeves toffees in decades gone by. Cleeves may no longer may be produced here (Kildare nowadays, like with Cork’s Hadji Bey Turkish delight, is the place of manufacture) but the Strand chefs have the recipe and it appears on the dessert menu.

Night Time Panorama from the glass walled balcony

Limerick was and is known as Pigtown and that name is coming into wider prominence in recent years and could well help market the city into the future. This year, the recently concluded Pigtown Festival featured “The 061 Dinner” (0 Imports, 6 Restaurants, 1 Goal) with a 3-course dinner being served in different restaurants at the same time using only Limerick suppliers on the menu. Of course, the Strand was involved. 

Salmon Starter

It is not just a one-night stand with The Strand. Take a look at their current dinner menu and you’ll spot a Pigtown Platter (a very good one too, by the way!). And quite a few other examples of local produce being used.

And that includes a can of Pigtown Lager that I enjoyed in my room, another beer from the Treaty City portfolio. You can get their Pale Ale on tap in the hotel bar. Atlantic Edge and European Embrace are recent marketing buzzwords for the city but I must admit I much prefer the punchier Pigtown.

Chicken and rosti

I was a guest of the hotel recently and also stayed there early last year and took advantage of its central location to visit quite a few of the local attractions including King John’s, the weekend Milk Market, and the Hunt Museum. You can walk to all of these and more. Speaking of walks, Limerick has no shortage: guided, self-guided, even a food tour. Take a stroll up Thomas Street and see for yourself: restaurants and cafes galore, even a micro-brewery.

Dish of the Day: Salmon, mussels

Hop in the car and within sixty minutes you can be on the west coast of Clare or in the heart of the Burren or meeting your match in Lisdoonvarna. Doolin and Ballyvaughan are about 70 minutes away. Head southwest-ish and you’ll be in the Foynes Flying Boat Museum in 35 minutes. Interested in more modern flying machines? The Shannon Aviation Museum is just over a quarter of an hour away. And that is just a handful of the attractions in the area.

The amazing Burren, an easy drive from the Strand

And you’ll be returning to one of the most attractive and comfortable hotels around. I really enjoyed it. From the moment we arrived on Thursday afternoon until we left on Friday morning, we met with nothing but smiles and courtesy from every single person, from reception to the bar, to the restaurant to the guy serving at the breakfast buffet.  

Dessert with Cheeves!

Speaking of smiles and courtesy we met some members of the Stormers Rugby team from South Africa and enjoyed a couple of brief chats with them ahead of their game against Munster. It is a large hotel but a very friendly one. Four stars for sure but a chatty engaging informality also abounds. 

Lots of hotels are now focussing on sustainability. Energy Conservation, Water Conservation and Waste Management are three main targets for the Strand. You see lots of press from various organisations and you wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes. But, without doing any deep digging, I noticed two ways in which this hotel is tackling the issue.

Reception area

Firstly, the waste bins in the rooms are dual purpose in that each bin has two separate (marked) containers, one for recyclables, the other for more general rubbish. And the drinking water for guests comes not in a glass bottle, not in a plastic one, but in a special carton (made by Borrisoleigh Bottling Company in Tipp). It has a paper based body with a plant-based shoulder and cap and is recyclable.

In the heart of the city and a gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way, the Strand is very well equipped. It has a 20-metre pool, on-site parking, free high speed broadband, air conditioning in all 184 rooms, plus a variety of well-equipped spaces for special occasions (anything from parties to conferences).

Award winning juice

The River Restaurant & Bar, renovated this year, boasts floor-to-ceiling windows offering stunning river and city views. Enjoy Al Fresco dining during the long summer evenings on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Shannon. Paddy Anslow is the new executive head chef,  having replaced the renowned Tom Flavin earlier this year. The venue is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner and more.

The main event for us in this room was, of course, the dinner. Quite a choice of starters, soup, chowder, Chicken Wings, Golden Arancini and a Local Salmon Plate included.

That Salmon Plate was one of our two and it turned out to be a superb plateful indeed which included Poached and Burren Smoked Salmon and roe, pickled onion, saffron mayo, seasonal leaves. Perfectly cooked and presented and CL did it justice.

I wasn’t found lacking either as I too had a beauty based on pigs from the nearby Rigney’s Farm (see what I mean by supporting local). Full description: Rigney’s Pigtown Plate - ham hock croquettes and ham hock terrine, 24 hour slow cooked and pressed, apple gel and crisp apple. Local and luscious.

Beer from the nearby Treaty City

A trio of salads on offer included the New Leaf Urban Farmers Salad (roasted vegetables, red onion jam, Leahy's Farm goats cheese, citrus scented pesto dressing). Hard to resist that but we did and also the burgers!

Rigney's Farm also featured on the list of mains which also included Catch of the Day, Sirloin Steak, a Thai Coconut Curry, Roast Rack of Bacon and more. A fine selection of sides also, including Cajun Spiced Chips!

Not too easy to make our selections here.  CL choose the Pan Seared 100% Irish Chicken Breast (with Rigney’s black pudding and leek potato rosti, all in a red wine reduction); a superb piece of poultry and that innovative rosti also a delicious delight.

I had the Dish of the Day: grilled salmon with mussels. Arrived in a tempting presentation, at the proper temperature and it was cooked to perfection. One or two pieces of grilled lemon plus little bits of bacon (not quite lardons) added a lovely little tang to the flavour and the result was a 4th clean plate on the way back to the kitchen. By the way, we also had a shared dish of seasonal greens (beans, mangetout, and some roasted potatoes). 

Delicious Beech Tree & Velvet Piopinno Mushrooms at the Milk Market

And we would finish well, and locally also. From seven desserts plus an Irish Cheese selection, we picked and enjoyed the Attyflin Apple and Pecan Crumble (with vanilla ice cream) and the Cleeves Toffee and Chocolate Slice (with Scup gelato peanut butter ice-cream).

So it was a happy couple that made our way, just a few steps, to the very comfortable bar area to try out the Treaty City Pale Ale, regarded here as perhaps their best beer. And that too got a big thumbs up as did our total stay in the Strand, including their Taste the Place campaign.


Sunday, January 12, 2020

Trident Hospitality Hard to Beat. Surrender's Sweet.

Trident Hospitality Hard to Beat. 
Surrender's Soft and Sweet.

Always a warm welcome at the Trident Hotel in Kinsale. It is the stop for us when we visit the harbour town and not just because the hotel has one of the most spectacular locations in the country. That welcome, from manager Hal McElroy and his team, is so friendly, so helpful. Makes one inclined to come again. A really lovely place to stay, good rooms, good food, and just about four minutes from the very heart of the town.

And of course I’m not downplaying the scenic location. Always love the view when I walk into a room here. The hotel consists of two wings at right angles to the main block and has been designed so that each room has a view of the water, some towards the town and port, some straight out across the bay and some over the fishing harbour and James Fort. Besides, the hotel is just a few minutes walk from the lively town centre with its restaurants (including the Michelin starred Bastion), boutiques, bars, and bookshops. It is the gateway to West Cork and also the first (or last) stop on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Lots to visit here, most notably Charlesfort. But don’t forget the wine museum in the smaller Desmond Castle. One of the new attractions is the Old Head Signal Tower and Lusitania Museum, a community effort alongside the famous Old Head. Good stories here and also splendid views over the ocean and the land, especially over the Old Head itself.

Usually, Hal and company arrange a bit of sun, but this time the December evening was uncompromising though at least it stayed dry on our short walk to and from the fabulous Finns Table for dinner. On check-in we were happy to hear we had been upgraded. Needless to say we enjoyed our stay in the Ringrone Suite with its extra space and facilities (including your own Nespresso machine). No problem catching up on the internet with a faultless Wi-Fi connection.
The Trident's Foredeck Bar for fair-weather sailors and sippers

Supporting local
The smallest rooms (and they are not really small at all) are the Superior. These have just a shower but no bath. But  they share much the same outstanding decor as the others, the colours of the fabrics and the walls, all calm and soothing. While walking along the corridors, I am always struck by the restful colour combination, mainly white and grey on the walls, blue and grey in the carpet, and a little extra colour in the curtains. All very peaceful throughout.

In all there are 75 refurbished bedrooms including an executive wing comprising 30 rooms and a penthouse floor of 9 luxury suites, all with breathtaking views. The hotel has a private marina, onsite parking and a wide range of state of the art facilities for conferences and is an unforgettable venue for family occasions.

How about a pre-dinner drink? Just stroll down to the Wharf Bar and take your pick. It is here that most of the daily dining, including dinner, takes place. There is excellent service here too by the way. The bar has a nautical feel – designed by local yacht designer, Rob Jacob, to resemble elements of an old sailing ship; it is complete with portholes, decking, vaulted panel & beam ceiling and rope-wound galleon masts. It is a friendly informal place and as well as eating and drinking, you’ll have the chance to watch golf or football in one or two corners.
Nearby Sandycove

Evening view from the restaurant
We have enjoyed a few dinners in the main restaurant, Pier 1, where you’ll see boats and even a ship or two just outside. Don’t forget to study the collection of Knuttle on the walls. It is also where’ll you’ll take breakfast. They lay on quite a spread here, with real cheese (Gubbeen, Carrigaline for example) and ham included. Loads of fruit too, plus breads and cereals. And a choice of hot dishes of course, including the full Irish (and any variation you wish) and a fish option. I choose the pancakes on this occasion and certainly enjoyed them while CL tucked into her Eggs Benedict (eggs and bacon from local producers).

And if the manager has missed you when checking in, you’ll almost certainly see him at Pier One for breakfast. Here he moves around and chats to everyone and anyone, wondering how they got on the day before, their plans for the day ahead, and if he can help! You don’t see that level of service in too many places!

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.

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

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

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Killorglin's Kingdom 1795. Up and Running

Killorglin's Kingdom 1795. Up and Running.

House Focaccia with Toonsbridge Mozzarella, Piquillo Pepper, Tomato and Basil.
This is Chef Damien Ring's take on the more usual Caprese salad. 
Simple and simply delicious and excellent value too at €7.85.

 Buttermilk fried chicken on a blaa, smoked tomato, Coolea cheese, harissa mayo, is another of Damien's 
lunch-time dishes, another superb combination. You don't often see a Blaa in Kerry. 
Just €8.00, again excellent value in this impressive new restaurant

Looks great outside, even better inside. You'll find it on the corner of Main Street
and Market Street. Kingdom is well worth a visit.

You'll find many variations of Tiramisu in Ireland and many will fall short against this beauty from the kitchen
 of Kingdom 1795. The building once housed the Kingdom Bar and the leasing records start in 1795.

Restaurant manager Suzi and Chef Damien are the young couple behind this impressive new restaurant in the middle of Killorglin, County Kerry. The pic (right) gives you an idea of the amazing design and you may see more here.  The food though is the main thing and the only way to check that out is to make a dinner reservation and get in there! Best of luck to the couple who honed their skills over the past three years in the lovely Screebe House in Connemara.

Kingdom 1795
Main Street
Killorglin, Co. Kerry V93XED7
Highlights info row image
(066) 979 6527

Also on this trip: Malarkey in Killarney

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Tasting Malarkey's at Rebel O'Connell's New Kingdom Base

Tasting Malarkey's at Rebel O'Connell's New Kingdom Base. 

Amazingly substantial 6th course of Tasting menu; amazingly delicious too!

It’s hot in the kitchen at Malarkey, the Killarney restaurant just opened by chef-patron Seamus O’Connell, best known for his years of good food, fun and frustration in Cork’s Ivory Tower. 

Pilsner from 9 White Deer
Service is in full swing. Probably just as well the restaurant, with its eye-catching decor both upstairs and downstairs, is not packed. The staff are extra busy though because they are also showing their new beer garden to the trade in Killarney and serving boxty and bubbles to their many guests.

After a superb meal, I take up an invite from one of the staff to have a look out back and am surprised at the overall size of the premises that Seamus has taken on and at how much work has already been done here.

Before I go, I get a chance to saw hello and have a brief word with the man himself. And he tells me that his biggest problem in these early months is the lack of staff, especially chefs. Seamus himself just has to work harder but there is no sign of the kitchen pressure on the plates. We have just enjoyed a superb 7-course Tasting Menu.

Choices are amazing here. Our Tasting Menu (Tasting Malarkey) is €50.00 each and he has a different Tasting Menu (Fusion De Luxe) priced at €70.00. There is a set menu (with lots of choice) for what seems good value at €30.00. And if you really want choice, just take a look at the A La Carte where you’ll have to allow extra time to make decisions; there are no less than 19 starters listed, including four of boxty.

Wild Salmon cured with Alder smoked salt in herbs

Wood pigeon, with beetroot

The finalé at Killarney's Malarkey. Toffee Apple crumble with smoked treacle ice-cream.
Nettle and Knotweed Soup (duck and orange centrepiece)
Crubeens with smoky onion poitín
Halibut with lobster sauce. And it is, but there’s some delicious bits of bacon and cabbage as well.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Tasty Morning With Karen Coakley On Kenmare Foodies Tour.

A Tasty Morning With Karen Coakley
On Kenmare Foodies Tour.
Enthusiastic Emma at Maison Gourmet
Henry Street is abuzz this sunny mid-May morning. Shoppers out and about, drivers trying to find parking. All kinds of small shops here, cafés and bars too. But we’re in a back lane watching bakers at work. We’re privileged because we’re with Karen Coakley, the Kenmare Foodie herself, and her Kenmare Foodie Tour takes you to places you won’t get to on your own, allows you see what goes on behind the scenes (away from the bustling street and the busy counters) and in most places you get to chat with the person or persons who started the food (or drink) business.

Margaret of Kenmare Ice Cream is one of those protagonists. Rose also plays a key role but she has to leave on business and it is Margaret that tells us the story. Both are Ballymaloe trained and were looking to start something in 2007. A gourmet deli was the first aim and they did much work on that before a discouraging coffee stop in Adare put them off. By the time they got back to Kenmare the ice cream idea was born but not yet taken seriously!

Margaret at Kenmare Ice Cream
But after research, it quickly gathered momentum and they got some equipment. How do we sell? They bought a tricycle, added three planks, and Margaret went off selling while Rose made the ice-cream. By the end of that summer, with over 11,000 scoops sold, they knew they were on to something.

Soon they had to scale up. They found “proper equipment” , including a 24 flavour cabinet, and a UK expert came over to give them two days training. They had  started making French style ice cream but now switched to the Italian style. “Because it’s all about flavour,” said Margaret. “More so than the richer (egg based) French style. Raspberry Ripple was our first flavour, and still my favourite. We stay as clean and green as we can. Four years ago, we started making whipped ice cream and that is now a big success. We do high quality but at a good price.”

Their Bia Bia is a full scale cafe, including ice-cream of course, in Railway Street while Kenmare Ice Cream, where we visited, can be found on Henry Street (open 11.00am to 11.00pm in season when Margaret and Rose have 22 people employed). Oh yes, you may still see that tricycle around Kenmare on special occasions but their famous cow, Moodini, is parked up for a while, awaiting a suitable grazing spot!
Patrick and Emma talk sourdough
If you’re arriving in Kenmare from the West Cork side, you’ll spot Maison Gourmet on top of Henry Street on your left. It was here, on the terrace at the rear that we joined up with Karen and her group. Soon, we met Emma, the French lady behind the bakery/café. And she took us out the back, to the lane where the bakery is and where we got our hands on the dough and fashioned our little baguettes (which we would collect, nicely baked, at the end of the tour).

Here they use a rather special butter, the Isigny AOC (now AOP). They can’t use Irish butter. It is good but it doesn’t have the same elasticity as the Isigny. Emma, having been part of large bakeries in Carcassonne and Toulouse, is delighted to be in Kenmare and you can see that Kenmare is delighted to have her and her bakery. Amazing too how many French visitors find their way to Maison Gourmet. Maybe it's that tempting smell of the breads, cakes and Java coffee.

Thirty years ago, she met Patrick who was already a baker, fell in love with the baking and the baker. Emma has “flirted” with Ireland since she came here as an au pair when she was twenty. Then, 3 years ago, she and husband Patrick “took the path of our dream and we opened a bakery in Kenmare. That was the best idea that we ever had.”
Beara Gin truffles at Lorge

Their butter and flour may be imported from France but they also use lots of high quality Irish produce in the busy café. But it is the breads (including sourdough) and pastries that attract me, all those classics from butter croissants to pain au chocolat (again the very best of chocolate is used) to Macarons to Mille Feuille, strawberry tartlets and more.
Olivier (On the Wild Side)

More chocolate down the street where’ll you find the Lorge shop. Hard to believe he started making chocolate by accident. His “factory” at nearby Bonane is housed in the old post office and is now a thriving business. Karen told us he is currently working with Beara Gin and indeed we sampled some of those delicious white chocolate truffles and, later, bought some bars and a bag of his marshmallow.
Alain knows his wines

Soon we found ourselves down by the town park where the weekly market was in progress. As we walked, Karen was dispensing food and recipe ideas, lots of tips all the way through the morning. 

At the market, we sampled the cured meats (including a beetroot and pork saucisson and a delicious chorizo) by Olivier of On the Wild Side. Later we called back to get some of his paté and also those Merguez Lamb Sausages. Cheese samples then, including Milleens and Coolea, from Christian’s cheese stall where he had many choices for his customers.

“How about a glass of wine?,” said Karen. Oh yes was the answer. We headed for the Vanilla Grape, a wine and card shop owned by Alain and Christine. “We are here 15 years now,” said Christine. “though those shelves are over 100 years old.” Frenchman Alain is always on the lookout to give his customers wine at a good price, not easy though considering we “had two tax hikes since the recession”.

But he did have just the job for us, a Cà Vittoria apassimento style, not from the Veneto but from Puglia, and well priced at €19.50. As we sipped the Nero D’Avola, we discussed serving temperatures with Alain saying the fridge is not a friend of wine. Had another chat with him later in the afternoon and bought myself a bottle of Chateau Vincen from Cahors much to the delight of Alain who himself is from the area (Figeac).
Making coffee with the Syphon

Alexa and Dave are the duo behind Babors Beans at the Brewhouse in the Square. Here they are serving top quality coffees, sharing bites, monstrous burgers and zesty cocktails to brighten up your day. But we’re here for the coffee that they roast themselves.

Dave told me they have eight single origins and five blends. He has to keep an eye on the price. “You have to watch the market as the price changes every day. It is too expensive to buy from the individual farmers. I get mine from Inter America Company. 

He is, of course a passionate enthusiast. “You can drink 10 to 15 cups a day and it’ll do no harm if you drink a lot of water as well!” He showed us two ways of making coffee, with the Syphon (which I preferred) and with the Chemex. We also enjoyed an espresso. By the way, not alone can you buy 250 grm bags of the various coffees here but you can also get the implements including the Syphon and Chemex. The new roastery is close to being ready and then he’ll be doing classes and demos and no doubt Karen will have that on her tours as well!

After all that, it was back up to Maison Gourmet to collect our loaves and say goodbye to one another. The tour takes about three hours but it was so enjoyable, with so many different and informative chats, that the time flew.
Christian and his cheeses

Get all the info on Kenmare Foodie Tours here.   Karen is always working on varying the tour and soon there’ll be a fish call.