Ballymaloe House, Cork
This was my third visit. That tells you what I think about this place. The place itself isn’t grand, or intimidating. It has perfected the shabby chic look. without trying, because it’s the real deal.
It’s run by the Allen family, who are an industry in their own right. Legendary, they have passed on cooking lore down the generations. There is a famous cookery school associated with the hotel and it shows. If I had to describe the style, I’d say it was sophisticated home cooking, with superb ingredients and with an eye to flavour.
They run “events” associated with the school and it’s worth checking out what’s on. We went to a talk and dinner with Mme Leflaive, owner of Leflaive wines. The dinner was exemplary and the wines very interesting and the whole thing was not overpriced, considering the quality (and amount) of food and drink consumed.
They do everything well. From the home made breads to the daily ice-cream it is all done with care. The waitresses are quirky, interesting and interested. They can accommodate faddy diets. They try. When you have finished each course they ask if you want more (unique in my experience) and aren’t shocked if you say yes.
The breakfast is notable. I defy you to eat only one of the warm, crumbling scones, or just one piece of the raisin bread (still warm). There are homemade jams, compotes and the usual range of cooked items. Eggs taste like eggs, and being the owner of chickens, I’m fairly fussy about the quality of my eggs. It all just works. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t flashy and it doesn’t really try to be anything other than it is, which is a well run family hotel, with all the generations playing a hand in its running.
You can do entirely as you wish. I spent a whole day, holed up in the TV room (when I say TV, it was a 12 inch relic) doing some writing, being brought an endless selection of treats and nice cups of tea, in a lovely Mrs Doyle sort of way. Being able to make a decent cup of char is, as a northerner, the litmus test for me and they pass here with flying colours. Proper loose leaf tea, in a silver pot which retains the heat and with boiling water. And always a selection of homemade biscuits. Because you need.
The rooms are comfortable and I recommend those at the back of the house overlooking the garden. The Blue Room is the honeymooner’s favourite, they told me.
If you find the will to leave, there are great walks a short distance from the hotel – I recommend the cliffs at Ballycotton (see picture) which will blow away the cobwebs. And, okay, it rains a bit, but this is Ireland, and it’s all part of it.
What was really amazing is that it made me relax. And that’s no mean feat.