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By Ellen Barone
The Emerald Isle is known the world over for its thousand shades of green, congenial citizens, melancholy poets, Guinness beer and Irish whiskey, but, until now, certainly not for its culinary mastery.
Sure, Ireland has the basics — good things like smoked salmon, creamy butter and cake-like soda bread — but historically the cooking had no spark, no inspiration. Today, however, Ireland is a changed place.
A recent visit to the Emerald Isle, confirmed that a new breed of inventive chefs are using local ingredients (high-quality produce, direct-from-the-sea seafood, regional cheeses, free-range beef, lamb and pork) to create meals that will please even the most discerning palates. Blessed with ideal growing conditions, the land is fertile and un-spoiled – so, too, are its food ingredients.
During a delicious week-long tasting tour through southern Ireland — heading east from Shannon to Limerick and Kilkenny, dipping south into Counties Wexford and Waterford, and looping back to Shannon through County Clare — I found scarcely a trace of the stodgy, old-fashioned cooking that once gave Irish food its bad reputation. Featured below are three off-the-beaten-path culinary discoveries, each playing an influential part in Ireland’s gastronomic renaissance.Dunbrody Country House Hotel & Restaurant, Hook Pennisula, County Wexford.
One of the country’s most lauded young chefs, 38-year-old master chef Kevin Dundon, brings city sophistication to the pastoral countryside, as the chef-proprietor of County Wexford’s Dunbrody Country House Hotel & Restaurant. Known as a “foodie hotel” situated two hours south of Dublin, Dunbrody is paradise for epicureans. Dundon, confident enough to let food taste like itself, adds a modern (but not heavyhanded) twist to such classics as rack of lamb — utterly delicious, with a whiskey-marmalade crust and caramelized kumquat jus. Classifying his cuisine as “funky-Irish”, Dundon’s cooking is a modern blend of homegrown and worldly, straightforward yet elegant. Incorporating an organic kitchen garden and the regional bounty of small, local farms and fisheries, Dundon and his wife Catherine, set a scrumptious table.
Positioned in a perfectly Irish setting of velvety green hugging a Georgian mansion, the estate’s 22 rooms feature bold colors, modern and classical art and antique furnishings that make one feel comfortable rather than awed.
For guests who want the chance to transfer their love of food from the Dunbrody dining room to their own kitchen, Dunbrody Cookery School, located in a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen opposite the mansion, offers guests the opportunity to learn Dundon’s secrets.
Can’t get to Ireland anytime soon? No worries. Dundon is the signature chef at Nine Fine Irishman, an Irish pub and restaurant that opened in July 2003 at Las Vegas’ New York/New York Casino. Dundon, in collaboration with eight of Ireland’s other top chefs, created the pub’s menu.
Arlington Lodge, John’s Hill, County Waterford
Arlington Lodge has long been intertwined in the history of Waterford and its people. Originally the residence of the Paul family, prominent merchants in the city, it later became the seat of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Waterford and Lismore and remained with the church for over 200 years until it was purchased in 1997 by Waterford entrepreneur/chef, Maurice Keller.
After careful restoration, Arlington Lodge now provides all the amenities of a luxury country house, combining elegant accommodations, superior service and fine dining. Each room is different, but deluxe with a featherbed so irresistible that I nearly missed the huge Irish breakfast cooked up each morning by Keller.
Dinner at the lodge’s Robert Paul Restaurant is firmly tied to Irish ingredients. My meal was one of the most seductively flavorful and distinctly regional of the trip. From the oak smoked salmon with horseradish mayonnaise and dense, country loaves, to the sautéed breast of guinea fowl with herb mash, Port & cranberry jus, it was clear that the chef is a master with the local resources. My meal combined the essence of the sea and the scrubby, brush-covered hills, proving on one unforgettable evening, that Ireland’s culinary identity is deeply rooted in its natural landscape.
Mount Juliet Estate, Thomastown, County Kilkenny
The settings don’t come any lovelier: 1,500 sprawling acres of emerald pastures and stately trees partitioned by the silky brown waters of the River Nore. Beautiful and romantic the threshold of Mount Juliet House, a Georgian, 32-room mansion, whispers entitlement when you cross it. An ultra-polished resort with spa, golf, fishing and horse stables on its extensive grounds, Mount Juliet is sophisticated and elegant without feeling stuffy.
You’ll want to hide out at Mount Juliet for at least two days – a week would be better. However, no matter how long your stay, an evening meal at the Lady Helen dining room is a must. With stunning views overlooking the glistening river, the restaurant’s sophisticated cuisine, complimented by an extensive wine cellar, managed to be even more agreeable than the surroundings. Starting with a delicious confit of duck terrine and foie gras with an apricot and lemon grass relish, followed by grilled beef fillet with Roesti potato, I concluded the feast with a layered apple tart. It was the kind of meal that leaves you with a warm feeling and glad your bed is upstairs.
Afterward, cocooned in a giant, canopied bed, I dreamed of returning to Ireland – soon! In the morning, when I parted the heavy drapes, the sun winked from behind the clouds to drench the Kelly green pastures and brown river in a syrupy sunlight. Only breakfast–fresh Limerick ham and Irish farmhouse cheeses–was better than the view.
For more information:
Tourism Ireland (800.223.6470; www.tourismireland.com)
Dunbrody Country House & Restaurant (011.353.51.389601; www.dunbrodyhouse.com)
Arlington Lodge (011.353.51.878584; www.arlingtonlodge.com)
Mount Juliet Estate (011.56.7773000; www.mountjuliet.com)
Ellen Barone, together with her husband Hank, is a travel writer and photographer based in rural New Mexico. To learn more about their travels visit their web site at www.intlmediagroup.com or e-mail them at email@example.com.
Copyright Ellen Barone, International Media Group. All rights reserved.
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