On our way to Galway, we made a quick stop at Ashford Castle in Cong. The Roman Gothic style is quite beautiful and was previously owned by the Guinness family. Now, the castle is a five-star hotel and many celebrities and presidents stay here. The most loveliest part of the Ashford Castle is the grounds around the property – acres and acres of horse trails and park-like greens.
We arrived in Galway an hour later and headed to our hotel on the Connemara Coast called the Connemara Coast Hotel of all things. The rooms were large but, a little dated with great views of the coastline and heavy winds splashed water up on the windows at night.
For dinner we were headed to Aniar in downtown Galway but, our previous hotel recommended having a drink or appetizer at a cute French wine bar called Petite Rouge which happened to be right down the street. The place was empty when we arrived and the wine steward offered to make us a sampling of four French reds to try and all of them were very interesting in flavor. We passed on a charcuterie thinking we would be too full for dinner but, maybe we should of taken them up on it.
After our wine we headed up the street back to Aniar for dinner. Aniar was an upscale looking bistro which happened to have one Michelin Star so, I was quite excited to try their cuisine.
For starters we began with Seared Scallops covered in a thin piece of Lardo and the Duck Hearts with Hen Egg, and Fennel. The scallops were small in nature and the lardo only covered two of the three scallops. The flavors were nice but, I felt the dish was a little sparse. I know gastronomy kitchen tend to receive Michelin Stars but, sometimes the delicious is missing. As for the duck hearts, well they looked like slices of heart what did we expect?? The hearts were a little over marinated in my opinion.
For our entrees we ate Monkfish seared and served in a light cream with a square of Pork Belly and Cauliflower and the Venison with Mushrooms, Leeks and Salsify. My fish wasn’t cooked enough in the center for me but, the pork belly was braised and seared nicely and I enjoyed the light sauce. The Venison was blood red and I know you are supposed to eat it rare but, this was a little much.
The best part of the meal was the Bleu Cheese Scone on the bread plate made by the pastry chef. The pastry chef came out and spoke with us after our meal to deliver a petit four plate, which I thought was very sweet. The molded white chocolate in the shape of cheddar cheese was clever too.
The service at Aniar was outstanding but, the food fell a little short during our meal.
The next, morning we were headed to the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare on our way to Dingle. The Cliffs of Moher soar 650 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and are an incredible sight but, the wind nearly blew us away trying to climb the hill to view the cliffs.
After the cliffs we headed into Dingle to find Bambury Guesthouse. The B&B was comfortable and well located to explore the city by foot. That evening we were looking for some great Irish music and we heard Dingle was the best place. For dinner, we dined at Fenton’s, a local Italian seafood place that had an antipasti platter and salad we could share for our meal. The food was just what we wanted after a few heavy dinners the previous evenings.
The next day we were headed out to drive the Dingle Peninsula. This peninsula loop is about 30 miles long and is the most western point in Ireland. There are several self guided books you can follow along with as you drive and learn the history behind each stop.
Next, we drove to County Cork to Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. It was a 2/1 2 hour drive to County Cork from Dingle and we pleasantly checked in our room to a place I have wanted to go for years. In 1450, Ballymaloe House was originally a Norman Castle built by the Fitzgerald family for illegitimate descendants of the Knights of Kerry, they raised cattle and corn. With a long Irish history, the Allen family who owns and operates the property today, purchased the house and farm in 1948.
The house has dinner nightly but, we wanted to go to the local town for dinner and dine at the house the following evening. Sage in Midleton, a local town next to Shanagarry, creates farm to table dinners with a tapas bar next door. That drizzly evening, we opted to eat at the main restaurant instead of the tapas restaurant and we were very pleased with our meal.
For starters, the Crispy Warm Terrine with chicken and ham was fried lightly on the outside with a tender meaty center. The apple puree to dip each bite reminded me of Fall and was a nice accompaniment. Also, the Slow Cooked Beef & Cheddar Pie with Pea Puree and Gravy was more than comforting. The pie was baked in puff pastry and had a nice crunch along with the beef flavors.
For our entree, we shared the Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Wild Mushrooms and Beetroot. The beetroot was a puree that was tucked inside of the meat before they seared it after roasting and it sure was terrific. I loved the flavors with a nice surprise inside.
The following day was my big cooking class at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Foraging. I have read about this cooking school, headed up by Darina Allen, for years. Darina has a great reputation worldwide and is considered the “Alice Waters” of Ireland. Darina has multiple cookbooks from Ballymaloe on various subjects, all focused on creating fresh foods.
We went through the grounds and gardens of the 100 acre cooking school looking for edible plants, flowers and scrubs. Darina identified basic plants that were used in cooking and/or eaten raw. After lunch, of wood fired pizzas and fresh garden salad, we headed to the coast to forage for mussels, cockles and sea plants. It was most interesting to find that during the recession the sea was stripped of edible life due to locals trying to find food for survival.
After foraging, we headed to the kitchen to watch her create jams, salads, drinks and entrees out of the food we found that day. Darina Allen’s energy is absolutely amazing and she truly is an asset to the cooking world. I can’t say enough about my day at Ballymaloe Cookery School.
That evening we dined at Ballymaloe House for dinner. Our meal was a five-course dinner served in their main dining room. To begin we started with a Grapefruit and Cucumber Lovage Cocktail and a Pear, Walnut and Crozier Blue Cheese Salad. Both were nice and refreshing and a great way to start.
Next, we dined on Chicken Liver and Marsala Pate with Red Currant Jelly and Pink Fir Potatoes with Smoked Bacon and Green Beans with Creeny cheese. The pate was creamy and prepared perfectly with just a hint of wine. The potatoes needed something more to heighten the dish, the flavors were good, but, a bit boring.
Our entrees, Ballycotton Monkfish with braised leeks, spinach and cherry tomatoes in a garlic butter was cooked perfectly with mild fresh flavors. And the East Cork Lamb with herbs, green beans and roasted carrots with mint sauce was a nice basic dish as well.
The cheese and dessert cart were our favorites with local cheeses from Southern Ireland and multiple desserts on a well presented trolley. The housemade Ice Cream and Chocolate Meringue Roulade were made with cream from the farm and tasted oh so fresh.
After dessert we headed to the drawing room for petit fours and coffee and to listen to the Traditional Irish Music. It was a nice evening at Ballymaloe House and we enjoyed the nice friendly service and the grounds around us.
The next morning we were headed to Kilkenny for our final stop before we headed back to Dublin to fly home. We decided to stay at Mount Juliet, just outside Kilkenny. On the way to Kilkenny we stopped twice to see more sights.
The Cahir Castle and Rock of Cashel were both impressive places to visit. Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s best preserved castles and The Rock of Cashel is a large group of medieval buildings in the plains of Tipperary which was the seat of ancient kings and where St. Patrick was baptized.
Arriving at Mt. Juliet we checked in and took a breather for a few hours before having dinner in Kendall’s Brasserie at the hotel. We just wanted something home style and comforting and I must say we had some delicious food.
For a starter, we shared Roasted Asparagus with Poached Egg coated in Panko Crumbs and Hollandaise Sauce. It was so good I ordered it two nights later in the bar for dinner.
For our entree – Rib Eye Steak with Herb Butter and Sauteed Spinach and Potatoes. The meat was seared perfectly and the flavors were hearty and fresh. The local grass fed meat was a real treat.
The next day we explored the city of Kilkenny with The Black Abbey and Canice’s Cathedral located above the town.
For lunch, we headed to Cafe Sol for soup, salad and a sandwich. Both were nicely prepared and the sandwich was made in a thin pita like bread and rolled up.
For dinner that evening we couldn’t get into the Hotel’s main restaurant because they were closed two of the three evenings we were there so, we drove back to Kilkenny and dined at Zuni Restaurant in town. They offered at prix fixe dinner with 2 courses for 25 euros. The meal began with Salmon Gravlox with Horseradish Cream and Foie Gras Pate with Apple Chutney. I loved the cream with the salmon and the pate was a little dense but, better eaten with the buttery brioche.
For our entrees, the Pork Belly & Cheek with Butternut Squash Puree was cooked nicely and the Medallions of Sirloin with Daphinois Potatoes presented more like a steak than smallish beef cuts. The flavors on the two dishes tasted similar even though we ordered different things due to the universal sauce and puree they used. They definitely need to change it up a bit! The French Malbec was very nice.
After dinner we popped into a few Irish bars and ended up having a whiskey at Left Bank, a French decor inspired bar in Kilkenny.
The following day I went running around the grounds and then had a treatment at the spa at Mt. Juliet and my husband golfed. It was a great day to relax before we started our journey home.
For dinner, we ate in the bar and I had the asparagus again and my husband, a hamburger. Bright and early the next day we headed to Dublin Airport to fly home. Ireland is a beautiful country and the history and people are what make it so special.
One book I definitely recommend to travel with in Ireland is “The Irish Food Guide”. It is loaded with restaurants, cafes, hotels, B&B’s and local produced food suggestions. It is written by John and Sally Mckenna and you can order it online. It is not in U.S. bookstores.