Go east for a feast
GO IRELAND:EAST CORK HAS long been in the shadow of its more famous sibling to the west. The rugged coastline and picturesque villages of West Cork are an easy draw for visitors but the eastern half of the county offers an inviting, tasty alternative.
With familiar names such as Ballymaloe and Ballycotton and Youghal, east Cork is perfect destination for food lovers, and it’s an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from Dublin and just 30 minutes from Cork city, so is well suited to a weekend break.
On a recent trip to sample some of the region’s cuisine, we based ourselves at Castlemartyr Resort, a 17th century manor house in Castlemartyr village. Set in more than 220 acres of parkland – much of which is now a golf course – Castlemartyr is an elegant five-star resort and spa.
On arrival, torrential rain – the staple of so many Irish breaks – did little to dampen our spirits as we made a dash down to the village to visit Pat Shortt’s bar. On the night in question Shortt, one half of comedy duo D’unbelievables and more recently an actor in his Killinaskully TV show and films such as Garage, was holding court in the bar – an appropriate pet project for a man who loves the craic as much as he.
He opened the bar in 2006 and, with the help of Ballymaloe-trained chef Mike Hanrahan (formerly of trad band Stockton’s Wing) serves up fantastic bar food, sourced from locally grown produce and seafood fresh from Ballycotton fishermen. Hake was the catch of the day when we were there, served with fat, handcut chips. We also tried a Clonakilty black pudding and goats’ cheese salad, a tasty fish chowder, and a delicious plate of Irish cheeses, including Crozier Blue and Ardsallagh.
Next day we set off for Midleton, a 10-minute drive to the west of Castlemartyr, where the Saturday morning farmers’ market is a must. Running from 9.30am until 1pm in the town centre, it’s a great opportunity to sample and buy fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices and other treats from the likes of Ballymaloe Cookery School, the Little Apple Company and Green Saffron spices and curries. The town is also home to Midleton Distillery, which produces Jameson Whiskey. You can visit the distillery on the Jameson Experience – taking a tour of the historic site with its original kilns, steam engines, pot stills, cooperages and buildings.
Visitors are brought through the process of whiskey-making (we taught the Scots everything they know, apparently) and you can take part in a guided whiskey tasting.
Heading further west towards Cork, you come to Belvelly Smoke House, a serious treat for the senses. Frank Hederman has been smoking fish here for more than 30 years and his passion for his craft is almost as intoxicating as the smell of burning beech chips wafting from the smoke house – the oldest of its kind in Ireland.
Working with a cold smoker and hot smoker, Hederman takes delivery of salmon, mackerel, eel and mussels from local fishermen, and in a process that can take up to three days – and after decades of fine-tuning – he produces the most delicious fish, sought after by chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Richard Corrigan. Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee lunch last weekend featured some of Hederman’s catch. You don’t need to be royalty to try it though as you can buy it at Midleton farmers’ market, the English Market in Cork city and the shop at Ballymaloe House, another fine eatery just down the road.
Back at Castlemartyr, the strong emphasis on local produce continues in the kitchen of head chef Kevin Burke – himself a local – and served up in the Bell Tower Restaurant. We had a fantastic tasting menu one evening that included local scallops, beef, more of that locally caught hake and a divine baked Glenilen yoghurt for dessert.
On our final morning, we finally put down the knife and fork long enough to use Castlemartyr’s impressive spa and wellness centre. After a hot stone massage and seaweed wrap, we also spent time in their Water Room, which overlooks some of the estate’s stunning parkland. The sun finally made an appearance and we made the most of it by exploring the estate on bicycles; a fitting final course to a delicious weekend.
East Cork’s gourmet attractions
Castlemartyr Resort, Ladysbridge Road, Castlemartyr, Co Cork.Tel: 021-4219000, castlemartyrresort.ie. Three nights BB, free upgrade to Junior Suite subject to availability. Tickets to the Old Jameson Distillery or Fota Wildlife Park and 20% off spa treatments. Plus 20% discount on best available rate if you extend your stay. From: €175 per night.
Pat Shortt’s Bar,Main Street, Castlemartyr, Co Cork. Tel: 021-4623230, patshorttsbar.com
Belvelly Smoke House, Belvelly, Cobh Co Cork. Tel: 021 4811089, frankhederman.com
Jameson Experience at Midleton Distillerycosts €13 for adults and includes a guided tour and whiskey cocktail.