Georgina Cambell’s Ireland
If one of Ireland’s most talented chefs cooking hyper-local produce in one of the island’s most under-discovered beauty spots sounds like your kind of food experience, then an all-inclusive night or two at this rustic-chic West Wicklow ‘mountain lodge for foodies’ could be your dream short break, with former Chef of the Year Danni Barry cooking you breakfast and brunch, a hiking-friendly picnic lunch, plus an informal wood-fired feast and a luxury long-table dinner.
Some of the produce in question comes from the kitchen garden and greenhouse just metres from the all-female kitchen in question, where Danni is supported by sous chef Niamh Barry; other key local suppliers such as Ridgeway Wagyu beef, Castleruddery Organic farm and Grace Organic eggs are within a three-mile radius.
A two-night/three-day stay (Wednesday–Friday, or Friday–Sunday) at this former yoga retreat turned hot-ticket dining destination begins with an informal fire-cooked feast in a covered outdoor pavilion: think local wagyu beef barbecued over wood served with smoked bone marrow and Ballymore Organic grain flatbreads straight from the wood-fired pizza oven. Barry’s sure-footed creativity continues right through to a farewell brunch on day three featuring superb Ballyhubbock halloumi with smoky baked beans, chimichurri and grilled sourdough.
The highlight of this short-stay foodie escape is the long table dinner on the second night, hosted at a bespoke oak table in a stylishly renovated dining room at heart of the original stone cottage. A laid-back affair thanks to the relaxed but professional service lead by general manager Conrad (a service industry veteran who worked for many years with Domini and Peaches Kemp), this meal is where Danni gets to flash the panache that saw her become one of Ireland’s first female chefs to secure a Michelin star (for Michael Deane’s Eipic in Belfast) and the first to be named Chef of the Year at several restaurant awards.
Snacks like green beans in crunchy polenta with a miso-sesame foam and a mini tartlet of mature Mossfield gouda topped with crispy chicken skin set the tone for the meal to come, and its playful take on bold flavours and textures. Danni is a chef who can magic layers of flavour from all that she touches, as a sweet, delicate and perfectly pitched starter of chilled cherry tomato broth with confit tomatoes can remind us.
Main courses like perfectly handled turbot or Wicklow mountain lamb are taken to fine-dining heights with Danni’s signature saucing, which are as deep in flavour as they deft in skilfulness, while locally grown vegetables are given a chance to truly shine too; a roast turbot bone sauce provides a rich backdrop to the clean flavours and textures of roast kohlrabi and just al dente cabbage leaves, for example, while a black garlic and lamb jus gives savoury depth to summer courgettes served three ways, as a bright flavoured chutney, in delicate ribbons and as juicy pan-roasted darnes.
Desserts continue the bold and playful theme, finishing perhaps with iced chocolate and caramel lollies with an interesting dessert wine pairing. Indeed all drinks served have received careful attention to detail, from raspberry kefir fizz to local Wicklow Wolf beers to wines paired with the long table dinner.
Accommodation is rustic-chic, belying the former yoga retreat incarnation of this space. Small but cosy bedrooms boast lovely touches like bespoke spalted birch furniture and extremely comfortable beds and bedding, including luxurious alpaca blankets, although the only natural light comes from the glass door meaning a choice between light or curtain-covered privacy. Meanwhile shared indoor lounging areas are limited to a handful of inviting armchairs in the Long Hall dining space.
The best approach is to bring appropriate clothing to embrace the outdoor beauty on your doorstep in-between all that feasting, whether lazing in the wood-fired hot-tub, ambling up the mature forest trails just behind the property, or heading out for a more ambitious hike on one of the many local trails (including the Little Sugar Loaf and Lugnaquilla). Other nearby attractions include charming villages, stone-age passage graves, Russborough House and parklands, Huntingbrook Gardens and the Blessington Greenway and lakeside drives.