Birthday celebrations at some of Ireland’s top hotels

Hotel group Relais & Châteaux is 60 this year, and its members all over the world are creating special menus to mark the occasion. They’re calling it a gourmet relay and here’s a flavour of what its Irish hotels are serving

Sat, May 31, 2014, 01:00

The Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore

Sunday, April 27th

How do you impress top-notch hoteliers on a busman’s holiday to Ireland? With difficulty, one might imagine, but a startlingly imaginative dinner with quirky biodynamic wines did the trick at the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore, Co Waterford. It was here that members of the Relais & Châteaux UK and Ireland branch assembled to kick off the group’s 60th birthday celebrations and to hold their AGM. No pressure, so, for Cliff House manager Adriaan Bartels, or his Michelin-starred chef Martijn Kajuiter. This dinner had to be exquisite and perfect, or the kitchen knives would be out. It delivered on both counts, while flying the Tricolour with pride.

Tiny starters such as white asparagus panna cotta with a herb jelly on top, razor clams with wild garlic, and West Cork scallops with Dutch salad and Irish caviar provided the green, white and gold, and then, just to be cheeky, came a box of pebbles with beetroot meringues and potato “stones” resting on top. Salmon in several guises and Atlantic halibut topped in watercress was followed by Ardmore carrot sorbet, and Irish veal with Blue Foot mushrooms and veal tea. A superb and dramatic rhubarb collapsing pudding was followed by the Relais fleur de lys logo executed in organic chocolate mousse served on giant dark chocolate-coloured plates.

Stunned by it all the members repaired to the bar for the real business of an out-of-town AGM.
Orna Mulcahy

The Park Hotel, Kenmare

Friday, May 9th

The Relais & Châteaux anniversary celebrations moved west, for a two-day party in Kenmare, Co Kerry – first to the Park Hotel and later, Sheen Falls Lodge. Guests were given a true At Your Service welcome to the Park by proprietor Francis Brennan, whose team has created a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere in this grand, late-19th century hotel overlooking Kenmare Bay and Reenagross Park nature reserve.

The evening began with Champagne and canapés. The 13 guests included first-time visitors to the Park such as retiree and keen photographer Richard Walsh and his wife, Margaret, from Tipperary, and returning guests like long-time visitor Connie Kiernan from Palmerstown in Dublin, who was welcomed back like a member of the family.

Head chef James Coffey prepared a special Taste of the Land menu for the evening to showcase the region’s finest game and livestock. Dining as a group – and entertained throughout by our host Francis – we began with a terrine of foie gras and Skeghanore duck, with the spiky tartness of apple slivers. Salad of roast woodpigeon, a wonderful balance of smoky breast and wing and delicate candy-striped heirloom beets and feta, was matched with a white Bosquet Des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Mushroom risotto followed, as the murmur of polite conversation gave way to lively stories and laughter. Next came the jewel in the crown, a taste of Kerry lamb, which included a sausage, a chop and tender fillet, served with a Contino Reserva Rioja.