Saturday, February 9, 2013

[Review] Overnight Stay at Dunbrody House, Co Wexford

Getting to Dunbrody House was one of the scariest drives that I have ever experienced. It was lashing rain all the way, but that's not terribly unusual in Ireland. There was however, much more surface water than normal, leading to an occasional uncomfortable moment and my tightly clenched fingers on the steering wheel. Once we left the motorway, we encountered several localised flooded roads. I must admit that I came close to saying a prayer or two as the headlights nearly disappeared underneath flood waters. 

Eventually, we drove through the lovely little village of Arthurstown and up the driveway to Dunbrody Country House Hotel, owned by Kevin and Catherine Dundon. Even on a dismal, wet and windy night, we already felt quieter and calmer as we gathered our bags from the car. One friendly and very warm welcome later, and we were settling into our lovely bedroom. We closed the heavy curtains over the original wooden-framed windows, shutting out the dreadful weather and turned our attentions to dinner.
Our bedroom at Dunbrody House Hotel
Our overnight stay included an eight course tasting menu (normally €80, with wine pairings for €30), and as we had been delayed by the weather and didn't want to further delay the kitchen, we did a quick spit & polish and headed to the dining room. Once I had a large glass of wine in my hand, I felt the tension from that horrible drive evaporate and I relaxed into the warmth. Lighting levels in the dining room were comfortably low, but prevented me from getting decent pictures of every course. 

Potato salad with rosemary foam and crispy garlic - a little cup containing a wonderfully light and silky foam, flavoured with rosemary & garlic. I found the little cubes of potato to be a bit discordant in terms of texture, but that sweet and savoury foam was addictive.

Dunbrody smoked and cured salmon, smoked salmon ice-cream and roe - two beautifully bright pieces of salmon, with the smoked version being my favourite, with little salty pops from the bright roe. But the real revelation of this plate was the smoked salmon ice-cream.

Chicken and duck liver parfait, Dunbrody chutney and croutons - Smooth and rich, but served with croutons, even though I had requested a wheat-free meal. Nevermind. I passed the croutons to himself, but I was envious of the crunching sounds at the other side of the table.

Lemon sorbet  - simple and effective, served with a dusting of popping candy, which always makes me feel as if my teeth are imploding in my mouth and makes me want to book a dentist's appointment.

Pan-roasted cod with rock samphire, mussels, lemon confit and butter emulsion - Perfectly cooked cod with a butter emulsion so good I could have drank it by the spoonful direct from the saucepan. Sharp but not biting lemon flavours throughout.

20 hour pork breast, celeriac puree, black pudding crumbs and garden herb jus - Both of us had pointed to this dish when first reading the menu, labelling it as the showstopper. However, it didn't live up to our expectations as we felt it was too flabby. It just didn't look pretty either. 

Chocolate fondant, vanilla cream / Beetroot parfait - I had specified a wheat-free meal when being seated, but somehow a chocolate fondant found it's way to me. However, this was quickly rectified and I instead received a wonderful and subtly sweet beetroot parfait. Himself reported the chocolate fondant as being very good. 

Tea or coffee with Dunbrody petits fours - I don't drink coffee any more following big meals, but I made sure to order some tea to ensure that I could sample some petits fours. Any excuse eh?
Potato salad with rosemary foam and crispy garlic
Dunbrody smoked and cured salmon, smoked salmon ice-cream and roe
Pan-roasted cod with rock samphire, mussels, lemon confit and butter emulsion
Beetroot parfait
Dunbrody petits fours
Our fish course had taken some time to appear, so we received two glasses of a delicious French sauvignon blanc on the house. Following dinner, we decided to do as the gentry do, and retire to the drawing room for a post-prandial drink. Soon, our heads were nodding and so we took ourselves to bed leaving a wet and windy day behind us. 

Saturday morning was brighter and fresher, and a decided improvement on the previous day. In an incredibly civilised move, Dunbrody House serves breakfast until 12pm at the weekend. This time the dining room was brightly lit by daylight, displaying it to its best advantage.  We took a seat at the French windows, looking out into the walled garden with the ever watchful stone herons waiting for spring to arrive. The heron motif is cleverly repeated throughout Dunbrody House and is even woven into the carpets. 

For breakfast, you can choose from a continental buffet selection as well as a cooked-to-order menu. We quickly spotted some of the wonderful cured salmon from the night before and took as much as we felt was decent, along with some excellent cold cuts of home cooked ham. Our waitress bought a basket of toasted white and brown soda bread which looked and smelled wonderful. My mother makes wonderful white soda bread, but it's something that I don't see out too often. I nearly found myself reaching for this piece of childhood memories, but slapped my hand back. Himself placed an order for fluffy pancakes, dropping the berries in favour of bacon. (To be honest, everything is better with bacon.) My full Irish came with some really outstanding back bacon rashers and delicious herby sausages. 
The dining room at Dunbrody House
Breakfast at Dunbrody House
After breakfast, we took a brief and bracing walk around the grounds, venturing down to the sea. After a few minutes of being buffeted by the wind off the sea, we both agreed that this was enough exercise for one morning and headed back. Cookery classes were underway in the cookery school across the courtyard, and we spent a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on. As we walked through the very fine hallway, we spotted Kevin Dundon's fantastical Easter Egg, designed for the Jack & Jill Foundation's Big Egg Hunt (@BigEggHunt).

Soon it was time to pack up and leave the comfortable haven of Dunbrody House. I picked up a jar of Kevin's apple chutney as we checked out and I can confirm that it is a wonderful additional to a cheese toastie made with Marks & Spencers wheat-free brown seeded bread. We also received a copy of Kevin's book Full On Irish as part of our package. As we drove away, I was already flicking through the pages and thinking about tomato and poitín soup.

Dunbrody House is a wonderfully restored Georgian house, completed with a style and panache that is not often seen. The fittings and decor really are of very high quality, resulting in a luxurious experience for the guest. This is what many country house hotels around the country aspire to, but few fail to achieve. But, despite the grand setting and the gourmet food, it retains a real sense of comfort and relaxation. It is a rare beast.

Dunbrody House Hotel, Arthurstown, Co Wexford
Tel: +353 (0)51 389 600

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5 comments:

Colette said...

Gorgeous post! I have had Dunbrody House on my wishlist for quite some time, and hope to make it there sooner rather than later. Looks like a wonderful place to spend a few days :)

rosscarberyreci said...

Would love a night there for sheer indulgence. Delivered there on another wild & windy evening about 12 months ago so can relate to white knuckles, but took the time for a coffee & fab smoked salmon to fortify me for the return journey to Rosscarbery.

Sinead said...

Going there on Thursday, can't wait!!

dudara said...

Lucky you Sinead, if you don't enjoy it, I will eat my hat! It's definitely on my list of places to return to

Jenny wig said...

I have been to Ireland last month. It is a beautiful place to visit. There are many things to explore and very nice hotel facilities. We stayed in Ardnasidhe. It was a wonderful experience. For further information you can visit: http://ardnasidhe.com/manor-country-house-ireland.html