Rachel, County Tipperary
I am a very lucky lady as I was whisked away recently for my eagerly anticipated birthday present from The Boyfriend, a long weekend in The Old Convent in Clogheen, Tipperary. Christine and Dermot Gannon have been hard at work since they bought the building in 2005 to create what they aptly refer to as 'A Gourmet Hideaway'.
Despite the building having had a former life as a convent everything about it now feels luxurious, and other than some impressive original stained glass windows there are few clues that point to the building's past. The whole place has been tastefully decorated and furnished and the guest rooms each have their own unique colour scheme, with comfy couches and deep baths for relaxing.
Christine has thought of everything that might make your stay more enjoyable. The guest lounge is stuffed full of drinks, snacks, books, dvds, and games. There's even a selection of bubble bath to choose from. You can also enjoy your book or the newspapers in the drawing room with tea and homemade macaroons.
We decided to have the lighter bento box meal on our first night as we had taken our time driving down, stopping for lunch in Cashel. Our meal was served in the drawing room and, as we were the only guests who had opted for this choice that evening, it meant that we had a private dining room! The bento contained 30 hour slow roast lamb neck with wild garlic risotto; Goatsbridge smoked trout salad with creme fraiche and trout caviar; Ballyhoura mushroom salad with Crozier Blue cheese and croutons; cheese and crackers with fruit and relish and, just in case you had any room left, 'The OC Sundae' of tiramisu ice cream, whipped cream and hazelnut brittle. I thought the meltingly tender lamb was the stand out dish from this selection but I enjoyed every bite, loving the contrast between the different flavours and the amount of high-quality Irish produce packed in to one very reasonably (€25) priced meal.
Dermot and Christine do everything to encourage their guests to relax and that includes the fact that they serve breakfast from 9am to 10.30am, encouraging you to have a lie in. You will understand from the pictures of breakfast below why lunch was not a thought that entered our heads from checking in on Friday to the following Tuesday! Breakfast began with local Traas Farm sparkling fruit juice, fruit and yogurt and homemade spelt bread and was then followed with our choice of hot dish using eggs from their own Bantam (a smaller breed) chickens. The emphasis on Irish produce we had seen at dinner the previous evening was continued with Crowe Brothers rare breed pork and Connemara Smokehouse salmon. We were well set up each day, whether it was for exploring the Knockmealdown Mountains, a trip to Lismore or Clonmel, or simply going as far as the garden to feed the gorgeous donkeys.
On our second evening we were booked in for the main event, the 8 course tasting menu (€65). I had heard great things about this from a friend and my experience of the food so far had only served to increase my expectations. We began with an organic turnip and black truffle veloute which, while earthy in flavour, was very light and was served in a dainty espresso cup. This was followed by a salad of cured angus beef and Ballyhoura donko mushrooms with St. Tola's goats curd and crushed cashews. The third course was Connemara Smokehouse organic salmon with Goatsbridge caviar, Toonsbridge mozzarella popover and Glenilen creme fraiche. The light salmon dish providing a wonderful contrast against the rich, earthy flavours of the beef salad.
|Top: Beef Salad; Bottom: Soup (Left), Salmon (Right)|
A palate cleanser of green apple sorbet with apple and blackcurrant jelly, fruit pickle and black sesame seeds was packed full of flavour and was refreshingly zingy. Our main course of Crowe brothers Tamworth pork was so tender that I could have spread it on toast like butter. It was served with sweet potato and cardamom puree, a steamed golden raisin and caraway pudding, Highbank orchard syrup and shiso vinegar. I felt that the pudding was possibly an element too much but this may be because I was starting to get very full. Our cheese course was the definition of simplicity; a piece of perfectly mature Cashel Blue with Traas farm plum and candied pecans; every bite was a joy as the flavours sang together. Dessert was a baked Valrhona dark chocolate pudding with a white chocolate mousse and hazelnut brittle. The hazelnut brittle popped up a few times during our stay and I think we were starting to become addicted to it by the end of the weekend. We finished off with tea and somehow found a tiny bit of room for a piece of Kahlua and pecan fudge. We were seriously impressed by this meal, while we felt the food and the service were well in the league of some Michelin starred restaurants we have eaten in, Dermot's style of food is far more understated, letting high quality ingredients speak for themselves through clever flavour combinations, and I think I enjoyed it all the more because of this.
|Top Left (clockwise): Sorbet, Pork, Chocolate, Cheese|
There are many, many things that I loved about The Old Convent: the food, the service, the rooms, the staff, the donkeys, the stunning surroundings... in fact, I am scratching my head to find any constructive criticism at all. If I am very picky, I would prefer it if they had a full licence rather than just a wine licence, but I think I survived with having a glass of prosecco rather than a vodka and tonic as my pre-dinner drink each night!
A special mention has to go to how considerate Dermot and Christine were. They were wonderful when it came to amending dishes due to my allergies and they were very considerate in providing us with a three course dinner menu for our final evening and alternative breakfast items on our last morning so that we didn't get bored with what was on offer. Dermot also deserves a special mention for sending us lots of little 'extras' with our three course menu, so much so that it became almost a mini tasting menu. The Old Convent is a real treat that lives up to it's title of 'A Gourmet Hideaway'. I hope to hide away here again very soon!
The Old Convent
+353 (0) 52 7465565