Review: Hunter’s Hotel for old-school fare

Wicklow hotel serves up hearty old-fashioned food in a dining room that has changed little in years

Hunters Hotel
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Address: Co Wicklow
Telephone: (0404) 40106
Cuisine: Irish

Listen closely and you might hear the sucking sound of aspic sealing as you sit down on a padded dining chair in Hunter’s Hotel. Tuck the heavy linen napkin around your knees. You are about to do some time travelling. Rest assured that nothing newfangled will disturb you along the way.

It’s my Mum’s birthday and the Wicklow grand dame that is Hunters seems like a perfect venue. She’s not a tea rose and clotted cream type but Hunter’s is in her hood, a short drive from home. I grew up knowing it as the place where Dubliners came on weekend drives. We locals rarely visited.

It’s everything I expected. We park in the courtyard where you can talk to hens behind a gate who seem well-accustomed to curious folk peering in at them. Outside the front door pebbles have been set sideways into the ground like mini cobbles worn by decades of people stamping their feet before they go in. When standing in the hall on the ancient biscuit brown tiles you can see how the building slopes down and away from you, the floor running at a steady incline from the front to the back of this old inn.

The dining room is lovely, half panelled and half-papered in a butter yellow flowered wallpaper. The green expanse of the flower garden feels close through the small-paned sash windows. On one of the panes some names have been scratched into the glass. You picture a giggling pair of tipsy lovers and a diamond ring. They dated their little act of vandalism 1930.


I am the youngest diner by a country mile. The furniture is mismatched because it’s been assembled over decades. There are nods to now. Balsamic vinegar makes its way into a salad dressing. Purple micro cress leaves are scattered like a message from the future over a main dish. But otherwise we have the lunch that time forgot.

There’s a thick slice of serviceable chicken liver pate, sliced off a loaf-size slab. I’d like a heavy-handed splash of brandy to have been used to deglaze the pan before it was blitzed to pate as it’s slightly underflavoured. It comes with triangles of melba toast, white sliced pan with the crusts cut off toasted, halved and then toasted again into crisp scrolls. The butter has been curled. I have a sudden memory of being given the job of using our wooden handled one dipping it in warm water to soften the fridge hard butter before scraping it into curls and putting them into the good bowls for the Christmas or some other festive table. Mum gets the most modern dish of the day: a plate of fresh figs with good salty crumbled feta over them and a tangy balsamic dressing.

There are three things I really like on my main course plate. The first are the slices of expertly-cooked Wicklow leg of lamb. The second is the buttery mash underneath it and finally there’s a treacle-black gravy heavily flavoured with thyme. It’s dinner, done well.

There’s a small jug of grey-green garden mint leaves at the bottom of a puddle of vinegar as the mint sauce, a condiment I thought had gone out with the ark. Mum’s roast beef is chewy but good with a slightly leathery Yorkshire pudding so puffy and golden it looks like you could put your head on it and have a snooze.

Desserts are of two halves. There's a great old-school chocolate roulade with thick chocolate sauce straight from a 1970s Good Housekeeping cover shot. My poached pear with caramel looks and sounds perfect but somewhere in the making it took a swerve off the road to treatville as the caramel is watery rather than buttery.

Dotted around us on most of the tables are cheerful bunches of nasturtiums from their impressive kitchen garden where we take a stroll after lunch. In other restaurants these edible peppery flowers might be tossed over a salad as a garnish. Here flowers belong in vases. And that says it all.

Hunters is not about the food. It’s about calling lunch luncheon and handwriting the receipt for a genteel helping of nostalgia smothered with a hearty gravy.

Luncheon for two with a glass of house merlot came to €73.70

Hunter's Hotel, Rathnew, Co Wicklow 
(tel: 0404-40106

The verdict: 7.5/10. An honest old-school dining experience

Facilities: Nice

Music: None (blissfully)

Food provenance: A promise to source locally and fruits and veg from the kitchen garden

Wheelchair access: Yes

Vegetarian options: Limited

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests