Thursday, 26 February 2015

Afternoon tea with a view: The Cliff House, Ardmore, Co. Waterford

“Is that it?”…
“No, that’s a big house!”…

My housemate and I were driving through the quiet streets of Ardmore and found ourselves at the bottom of the hill, not sure if we were going the right direction.

Expecting a big flashy hotel, we were surprised to see the understated Cliff House Hotel discreetly nested on the cliff.

Yet this luxurious hotel feels contemporary, with the outside made of dark granite stones. Once inside, the lobby is bright with big windows overlooking Ardmore Bay and little touches such as lamps and mirrors frames made with sea shells.

Afternoon tea takes place in the House restaurant on Sundays from 2 to 5pm at a price of €35 per person. However, it’s not on every single week so check dates on their website first.

We arrived earlier than our booking but were welcomed and brought to our table straight away. We were seated in the function room (just adjacent to the main room) with a beautiful fire place and chandelier. Our table was by the window, from where we had the most stunning view over the sea. Such a peaceful setting for an afternoon tea, we were very pleased and eagerly awaited our treats.

We were told that the price included a glass of prosecco and were shown the tea menu that features a great selection.

Soon after, two stands were placed on our table, one for savoury bites and the other full of small pastries and buttermilk scones with raspberry jam, lemon curd in smalls jars, with a bit of cream on the side.

The organic salmon finger sandwich was served with gem lettuce, horseradish sauce and cucumber. It was probably the least exciting part of the meal but still good. 

Next up was a thick fennel bread filled with a cray fish salad, which was tastier and more substantial. A small Waterford blaa (the famous little bread roll from Waterford) was lovely with some delicious corned beef and a leek mayonnaise. 

The highlight for me was the melted Milleens cheese on walnut bread with some pumpkin relish. The flavours worked so well together and the topping to bread ratio was just perfect.

The cakes were all very sweet but small enough so as not to feel like too much. My highlight was the fool, presented in a verrine with a thin chocolate disc on top: the vanilla crème was light and matched brilliantly with the rhubarb. 

The lemon verbena cake had a zingy glaze and lovely green colour. The dark chocolate cake had an almost fudgy consistency with a melt-in-the-mouth chocolate glaze on top. Unfortunately the millionaire square wasn’t too remarkable in comparison to the rest. I loved the pistachio muffin, which came with some orange curd hidden in the middle, topped with a rosewater flavoured soft meringue.

Having tried a few afternoon teas in Dublin, the one served at the Cliff House Hotel is definitely very good value both in terms of food and service. I honestly doubt it’s possible to find an afternoon tea in Ireland with a better view.

I’ll certainly be back to try Martijn Kajuiter’s Michelin starred food some evening for what I’m sure must be a stellar dining experience.

The Cliff House Hotel
Middle Road
co. Waterford

Monday, 23 February 2015

Week 7: Tarts and Exam Results

On Saturday morning I was delighted to discover the article I wrote for the Irish Independent in their weekend supplement. As it was the day Ireland was playing France in the rugby, the magazine had a French themed to it. The article was about how I fell for Dublin and I got some lovely feedback from people on my Facebook page. (If you wish to have a read, the online version can be found here.)

Mr. FFID was visiting so at lunchtime I treated him to a heart-shaped pizza in the school’s cafe for a Valentine’s lunch. Every Saturday, Philip (Darina’s son-in-law) runs the ‘Saturday Pizzas’ made in a wood-burning oven. The specials change weekly and are totally up my alley with the most delicious toppings using seasonal ingredients. I absolutely loved the slow roasted shoulder of pork with kale, aioli and thyme pizza.

After a rather quiet weekend (I always have to recover from the full-on week) I was back in kitchen 2 on Monday morning. We change station, teacher and kitchen partner every week and except from a lovely view from where I was, Monday wasn’t great for me for some reason. Kitchen 2 is my least favourite kitchen so far. It’s a bit chaotic in the corner I was in and the sinks seemed to always be a little messy. First off I had to make white yeast bread, which I enjoyed making but it took very long to rise because the kitchen wasn’t warm enough. However, it was exciting to see my little rolls coming out of the oven by lunchtime. I also made a raspberry fool and shortbread biscuits that morning, they weren’t the most exciting food ever but every day is different and we get to cook so many different things that practice is all that matters.

Rory’s demo in the afternoon cheered me up as it was all about things I love eating. He covered lots of French food: terrines, pâté, confiture d’oignons, soufflés and crêpes. As I spoke to other students it seemed that they were less enthusiastic at the idea of making coarse pâtés, maybe it’s a cultural thing.

On Tuesday I was much happier in the kitchen and excited at the idea of making pâté de campagne. There was so much meat in my pâté that a vegetarian would have fainted at the sight of it. I also made a beetroot and ginger relish as well as a delicious cheese soufflé using Glebe Brethan.

In the afternoon Rory demonstrated several different pies using flaky pastry, salads, stews and tarts. He also claimed that the Italian beef stew is better than beef bourguignon, sacrebleu I’m not sure about that one Rory!

At the start of the demo we got a quick talk by Helene from Coolea Irish farmhouse cheese. Helene and Dick Willems started making a Gouda style cheese in West Cork in 1980 and since then it has won many Irish and International awards. Mature Coolea is amazing and if you haven’t tasted it, you should get yourself some!

After the demo we had to queue to the office to get our mid-term exams’ results. Imagine the pressure of having someone who you admire (Rory O’Connell) giving you your results. Well, I was over the moon when he told me that I scored 100% at my herb and salad exam and 96% at my technical exam. As you can imagine I really want to do well at the course so I was quite chuffed and more than a little relieved.

Wednesday was time for the second and final part of our business course with Darina’s sister.  It was a long day to be sitting in a classroom for all of us, time goes much quicker in the kitchen I have to say but it gave me plenty of food for thought (excuse the pun).

On Thursday morning I was up early and ready to pick herbs at 7.30am with two other students and Igor, one of the gardeners. We went to the glasshouse to pick flat leaf and curly parsley as well as sweet geranium leaves. It is these little things that that make the course so immersive, so special and unique. I have never heard of sweet geranium before I got here but Darina always raves about it and we use it in so many desserts or as a garnish. I’m honestly thinking about getting a sweet geranium plant and naming it ‘Darina’ when I’m back in Dublin.

Back in the kitchen I was rather busy making flaky pastry, a bitter endive salad with anchovy dressing and mini caramelised apple tarts. I had a good day and enjoyed the dishes I made, I also got to taste my pâté de campagne and wished I could have sent some to my parents back in France.

In the afternoon Pam, one of the senior teachers showed us how to make ice cream, fillet a monkfish, make ciabatta bread and create a Ballymaloe apple tart.

Without even noticing it Friday was upon me. It’s always a mixture of feelings, I’m happy because it means I’m able to rest for the weekend but I’m also sad to see that I’m getting closer to the end of the course. It wasn’t a bad day in the kitchen, I did Vietnamese spring rolls with a dipping sauce, a Ballymaloe gooseberry tart with crème anglaise as well as brown soda bread. I think in the last 7 weeks I’ve made more tarts than in my entire life beforehand, you certainly get to practice here! It was my last day ever in kitchen 2 after spending three weeks there and to be honest with you, I’m delighted to be moving to the quieter demo kitchen for week 8.

Friday’s demo was my favourite as Rory taught us how cut steaks, make spiced beef, ratatouille, French-fried onions, coleslaw and a bunch of other dishes. Rory suggested that we all take a few deep breaths and relax this weekend as this stage of the course can be the toughest for some students.

As I’m getting closer to the end (only 5 weeks left!) I’m thinking about what I’m going to do afterwards and it’s a little scary. I’d like to keep working for myself but I’d love to get some experience in cooking in a professional kitchen to practise the skills gained in Ballymaloe. I have to hurry and book a ‘one to one’ with Darina before the end of the 12 weeks as every student can get some career advice from her, as long as they make her a perfect cup of tea and maybe some biscuits. In the meantime, if you have any advice for me I’m open to suggestions!

“I personally think that this is better than beef bourguignon” – Rory O’Connell talking about Italian Beef stew.

“This is Jersey cream…you can almost spoon it out into your mouth” - Pam about to pour some cream over a slice of tart.

All pictures taken with an iPhone 4S