Ireland's reputation as a gastronomic haven is well-deserved, as?the?Image Interiors & Living?team discovered following several recent jaunts around the country. In the final instalment, we journey to Clare, Meath and Cork.?
GREGANS CASTLE, CLARE
Relatively unassuming from the outside - it's?not a castle - but as soon as you walk through the door of Gregans Castle, you know it's worth the trip. Perfectly-pitched ambient lighting and?a gentle Georgian colour palette conjure up the cosy intimacy of an Irish country house with the finish of a five-star hotel.
FOOD & DRINK
The food at Gregans is every bit as high-end as the decor, with chef David Hurley operating at a Michelin standard. Little details stand out, like a trio of butters (smoked, caramelised and salted Irish farmhouse) served with your house-baked bread, not to mention a dish of seared scallops dressed with cascading waves of lime-infused kohlrabi and paper-thin broccoli.
Each course almost outdoes what comes before in flourish and finesse, and the award-winning cuisine is complimented by an extensive, ever-expanding wine list that takes in continental champions and a large selection of organic and bio-dynamic wines.
A bracing stroll along the nearby slate-grey Flaggy Shore, the very spot that Seamus Heaney warned will "catch the heart off guard and blow it wide open" goes a long way to summing up the Gregans experience. That, and a few chats with John, the castle's legendary barman.
Centuries old,?Tankardstown House is just the spot for removing yourself from the hustle and bustle of the everyday. Beautifully appointed rooms, walled gardens and award-winning food await.
FOOD & DRINK
Brace yourself for a delicious feast in the Brabazon restaurant where head chef Rob Krawcyzk ??awarded the title of Best Chef in Leinster in 2015 and 2016 - and his team serve up such delights as octopus with ham fat and wolf fish ceviche followed by brill with shrimp, and dry-eyed ribeye with a most fragrant duxelles brill for a main course. To finish, we opted for the cheese board and the truly delicious "strawberries in the field".
A tour of the walled vegetable garden is a serene way to work up an appetite before sitting down a tasting menu comprised of gin-spiced salami from the chef's smokehouse, the unusual combination of chorizo and honey (from the estate's bees), white gazpacho, goat's cheese parcels, rabbit and more. Top it all off with rhubarb and pistachio for dessert.
BALLYVOLANE HOUSE, CORK
A historic Irish country house brimming with warmth and tradition, Ballyvolane House keeps things simple. Salmon fishing on the river Blackwater? Yes, please...
FOOD & DRINK
Dinner at Ballyvolane is an experience as guests dine together, creating an old-school, convivial atmosphere. Almost everything you eat here is produced onsite, including your pre-dinner cocktail which comes from the small batch gin Bertha's Revenge, made with whey alcohol and locally-foraged botanicals.
Ballyvolane's magnificent walled garden teems with seasonal produce; sea kale, globe artichokes, Tuscan kale, ruby chard, figs, berries, pears and so much more. On the dinner table, you can enjoy platters of gin-cured gravlax, Ballyhoura mushrooms on toast, whole Castletownbere halibut and freshly-caught salmon, all accompanied by steaming bowls of new season potatoes and buttery wilted chard.
That's not to mention splendid walled garden gooseberry meringue roulade and tasty artisan Irish cheeses.
Tasteful touches line this house, from the Voya products in the bathroom to a perfectly-curated selection of books in your room. All kinds of activities are available, too, from fly-fishing lessons to clay pigeon shooting, canoeing, archery, cookery & cocktail demonstrations and foraging expeditions.
Featured image:?Communal dining at Ballyvolane