Snacking in Italy

In a local restaurant in Gallipoli, Puglia. Next door is a particularly fine greengrocer’s shop, with an outdoor display. In my halting Italian I got into conversation with the proprietor over a product that turned out to be salted capers. He rolled some up in pommodori secchi (sun-dried tomatoes) and presented them to me. Fantastico!. Bought a quantity of each and brought them back to the apartment to snack on while I watched second half of Preston v Man City on a link. Unbelievable, Jeff! World class snack.

Adare Manor – an impression

To understand Adare Manor you have to get into the mindset of the Earls of Dunraven, a family who had grandiosity stitched into their DNA. Do not arrive thinking that you will be staying in some cocooning country house, the likes of, say, Ballynahinch or Longuevlle that makes you feel you own the place  for the duration of your stay. The very scale, size and scope of Adare Manor means it owns you. 840 acres of sweeping parklands, cultivated gardens and formal French gardens puts you in your place. Truly, it’s phenomenal. The house is the size of a French cathedral. An estimated €70 million spent on restoration has you in thrall from the minute you pass through the portal into  the impressive Great Hall and keeps you going “wow!” until you vanish down the long drive..

Let me get the disclaimer in early. I stayed two nights at Adare Manor at The Hotel’s invitation, along with a clutch, or whatever the appropriate collective noun is, of food journalists. So please do not interpret these ramblings as ‘a review’. At the same time rest assured that despite the sybaritic nature of the surroundings and the munificent hospitality I cannot be ‘bought’. I shall call it as I find it.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Mega-luxury, I suppose, couple with extreme formality. Cynical old me also imagined that the hotel might have a veneer  or at least a patina of pretentiousness, akin to that exhibited by faux posh golf and yacht clubs, the kind where one is constantly advised to tuck one’s shirt in or repeatedly warned that wearing a baseball cap indoors merits a drumhead court martial. I was maybe also anticipating an overload of “have a nice day”.

In the event my qualms proved unfounded.  On arrival I was delighted to find the owners had installed Paul Heery, whom I’ve known since his time at Sheen Falls Lodge and The Merrion, as general manager. The staff throughout the hotel were courteous in the extreme as well as attentive to every enquiry; friendly,  too, without descending into “you guys” familiarity, which I always find totally abhorrent. I will make special mention for the staff in The Gallery, the busy breakfasting room, where the degree to which they had been trained shone through. My late mama, a banqueting professional who taught me about such things, would have been well impressed.

Jurica Gojevic , Wine and Spirits Manager, with a track record that includes The Greenhouse and the Cunard ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is another major asset. From the Manor’s vast cellars he plucked a selection of wines he particularly favoured, natural, organic and biodynamic and gave us a tasting I’d call “brave”.

There are two restaurants, the only nominally formal Oak Room and The Carriage House, where we dined the first night. The latter is more New York-meets-fin de siècle Paris in feel and provides a comfy ambience in which to consume large steaks – some in the ‘serves two’ category (at least this is the tack most of us took). I kicked off with an excellent prawn cocktail, re-formed  in a lateral format and followed up by agreeing to share a 30oz ‘tomahawk’ steak with a fellow food writer. When it came to dessert it looked like everyone had chosen something different and so a medley arrived at table. I found myself commending the tiramisu, something I rarely do.

Mike Tweedie

Next night in The Oak Room introduced us to the culinary oeuvre of head chef Mike Tweedie whom I had met earlier in the day when we were visiting one of his suppliers, Kevin Wallace, a chemical free vegetable farmer, of whom more anon. Mike is from Exeter, Devon, UK, loves it here and, like myself, doesn’t think he’d ever go back except for a visit. He looks about 18 but given his impressive CV – one star Lucknam Park, two-star Gidleigh Park,  Ballyfin Demesne and The Greenhouse  – I’d say he must be pushing 30. Talk to him and the usual cheffy buzzwords roll off his tongue – local, seasonal etc but there’s something about the guy that convinced me these were no glib mantras. In any event, his cooking that night removed any doubt, reasonable or otherwise. I started with sweetbreads, the exception that proves the rule. Dutch, alas, but justifiable on account of the quality, far in advance of that of the native product. For my main course  I had the salt marsh lamb, accompanied by a highly individual take on ratatouille, and enjoyed it hugely whilst at the same time wishing maybe that I’d chosen the plump turbot or the squab pigeon. The price we pay for dining on greatness. A massive shout out, too for the accompanying wines chosen by Jurica and Restaurant Manager Liam Simpson’s cheeseboard. Umpteen Irish cheeses in the prime of life accompanied by good crackers and breads. During the tasting I was able to confirm one of my prejudices which is that, good as it is, the über trendy Young Buck is no match for old fave Cashel Blue when the latter is in the pink of condition.

Afterwards, we trooped off to the cellar bar, dubbed  The Tack Room where half the Irish rugby squad and their inamoratae (nicer word than “wags”) were having an emotional leave-taking before jetting off to Japan. A nice man appropriately called Ariel (non-Shakespeare buffs should maybe look up The Tempest, Act 5) made me an Old Fashioned so old fashioned it was wearing loon pants over spats. “Tricksy spirit” indeed. After a reprise, it was off to my plump-pillowed bedroom to use the fast charger and play the remote that did every chore save putting the toothpaste on the brush.

To sum up, first, a couple of minor concerns. One, the ranks of leather bound  tomes adorning the bookshelves in some of the reception rooms. A really naff idea, though, I know, venerated by hotel and pub designers and bought by the tonne at auctions. If you are going to have a library, why not give the punters something they are likely to, or may possibly read? Great Expectations or The Collected Poems of Burns, fine. But The Law Reports 1885, come on. Secondly, the modernistic version of  a slipper bath, was lovely. But, at the moment, thanks to a twitchy nerve and an operation on one hand I have limited mobility and had a deal of difficulty clambering out. I hope they are warning visitors of this.

Overall, though, I have nothing but praise for Adare Manor. I think it offers as good a residential experience as you’ll get anywhere. And you’ll certainly eat well. Would I could afford a long-weekend a year there.

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