The first of my contributions to last Thursday’s Irish Times Christmas Supplement…A Foodie Getaway in Ireland: The Old ConventWhat do you want from a weekend getaway? A romantic location that is not too obvious, yet easily accessible? A relaxed atmosphere, stylish comfortable bedrooms, fabulous breakfasts and a dinner to die for? In that case, head straight to Dermot and Christine Gannon’s The Old Convent. Situated in the small Tipperary town of Clogheen, this hidden treasure is nestled at the foot of the Knockmealdown mountains. Dermot and Christine established their restaurant with rooms here, in the former home of the Sisters of Mercy, in 2006 and have since been attracting customers from far and wide.The main draw, of course, is Dermot’s creative eight-course no-choice tasting menu, created afresh each day with a focus on organic and local artisan produce, including Trass raspberries, North Cork pancetta, Dunmore East crab and Gabriel cheese. Dinner is served at 8pm in an atmospheric candlelit dining room. From well-balanced appetisers, seasonal veloutés and sorbets, beautifully cooked fish and meats to the grand finale, The OC signature Chocolate Fondue, the meal is brilliantly paced and perfectly presented.
Last Wednesday was school tour day. Instead of spending the day sitting through two demonstrations, we got on the road at 7.30am. Our first stop, on a fresh and sunny morning, was at Baylough Cheese, just outside Clogheen, near to my favourite Old Convent Gourmet Hideaway. When we arrived – I got a lift from the Ranelagh Housemate, thereby missing out on a bus trip with 50+ others! – Darina had already unpacked a morning tea of student-made muffins and banana breads as Dick and Anne Keating showed the class how their unpasteurised cows milk cheese is made by hand. The couple are a well-tuned double act; we were entertained as well as educated as they explained how to make cheese and how this particular venture – now on the go for over 20 years – brought them out of the red at a time when there weren’t a huge amount of farmhouse cheeses in Ireland.
Continued from Restaurant Review: The Old Convent – Part I.The fifth course – a palate-cleansing Organic Lemon and Ginger Sorbet – caused arguments. The Cousins, who are identical twins, thought that the ginger was more pronounced. The rest of us were definitely on the lemon side – as the wine kept flowing, we wondered if the world is divided into lemon-tasters and ginger-tasters.
When you’re going out for an eagerly anticipated eight-course meal at a restaurant in the middle of the Tipperary countryside it would be nice to turn up a little early, take some time to appreciate the setting and relax while perusing the wine list. In an ideal world. As it happened, ten minutes after we were supposed to arrive, the Boyfriend and I – plus my Clonmel-based and Dublin-based Cousins, accompanied by the Chilli-Intolerant Husband and the Ex-Planner Partner – were still chugging along in a Clonmel taxi that seemed to be in no hurry to get us to our destination. As we pulled up outside the imposing frontage of The Old Convent, just outside Clogheen, there was a mad scramble to pay, figure out when we should be collected and get out of the taxi but, as soon as we set foot on the black and white tiled floor of the elegant hallway, all stress was over. Calmly greeted and smoothly ushered to our table by proprietor Christine Gannon, we settled into an evening of superb food, wonderful wine and great service.