Monday, July 28, 2014

A trip to Ballymaloe House...

So dreams DO come true! Maybe not always, but sometimes they definitely do! If you really want something and you work towards achieving it - it will happen! That was one of mine - to go to visit Ballymaloe House in county Cork. And on the 26th July 2014 that's exactly what happened! 
If you're living in Ireland or UK you probably have heard of Ballymaloe House, you have definitely came across Darina Allen or Rachel Allen, either on TV or through many cook books. The Ballymaloe House and its restaurant are also famous in France and USA.
The restaurant held one Michelin star in the years 1975-1980, when Myrtle Allen was the head chef (she was a head chef till 2010). The kitchen style at Ballymaloe is described as Modern Irish. The world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School was opened by Darina Allen in 1983.




"Myrtle and Ivan Allen bought Ballymaloe in 1948 from the Simpson family. The Simpsons were known in the area for their parties and Myrtle and Ivan had in fact met at a dinner at Ballymaloe a few years previously. Ivan had wide farming interests, growing tomatoes and cucumbers in glasshouses and mushrooms in dark wooden sheds at nearby Kinoith as well as managing the orchards there. However he longed for a mixed farm and when Ballymaloe came up for sale he decided to buy it. Myrtle and Ivan spent the next sixteen years farming and bringing up their children. The farm was a success producing milk,butter,cream, eggs, home raised pork and veal as well as fruit and vegetables. Myrtle became highly knowledgeable about cooking their produce and began writing a cookery column in the Irish Farmers Journal. In 1964 Myrtle, encouraged by Ivan decided to open Ballymaloe as a restaurant. The children were growing up and she could see a different future ahead of her: " On a winter's day I sat by the fire alone and wondered what I would do in this big house when they were all gone- not just spend my life cleaning it I thought! Then I thought about a restaurant. Her aim was to emulate the best Irish Country House cookery. Myrtle and Ivan then placed an advert in the Cork Examiner: "Dine in a Historic Country House. Open Tuesday to Saturday. Booking essential. Phone Cloyne 16." So Myrtle scrubbed down the kitchen table and with the help of two local women she began. They cooked on an aga at first and she was helped front of house by Ivan and their daughter Wendy. Their shepherd Joe Cronin ran the bar. The food was good and the restaurant flourished. They cooked using their own produce- unpasteurised milk and cream, veal, pork , homemade sausages and black puddings, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Ivan went to Ballycotton every day for the fresh catch. Local beef and lamb came from Mr Cuddigan, the butcher in Cloyne. Myrtle also encouraged local farmers wives to bring in their surplus produce and blackberries, elderflowers and watercress were brought in by children for pocket money. Although times have changed at Ballymaloe, the essential spirit of the place is rooted in these improvised beginnings and in the relationship of the farm to the table which underlies the elegance of Irish Country House cooking." by Ballymaloe




The main reason of the trip I went on (it was a coach day trip organized by a local coach holiday company) was to dine at the famous restaurant and a brief visit to the Ballymaloe ground and walled garden. Definitely NOT a disappointment! The menu was very versatile and it was really hard to choose just one starter and one main! I went for Potted lobster with thyme & lemon, followed by Glazed loin of bacon with garden cabbage, roast beetroot & Irish whiskey sauce, all accompanied by glazed carrots and two spuds (potatoes). If there was any complaint I could have, it would be that there was not enough of that lovely sauce! But is there ever enough of the sauce?! ;) After a very good and filling meal there came the dessert tray and I was faced with a real dilemma... Luckily, there was an option of having a "selection"! Raspberry coulis (so thick and sweet), chocolate cake (very light!), vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, rhubarb tartlet and strawberry meringue rulade. And I was in dessert heaven....
Loved the meal, brilliant service - very efficient and friendly (the staff was wearing "retro" uniforms, ones that reminded me of French maids, I know - what a cliche...). After my tummy was full and very happy it was time for a little walk.




The walled garden is only a small part of what's grown at Ballymaloe. The main gardens are by the cookery school, which is few kilometers away from the main house. Everything within the wall garden was in full bloom, full glory - I don't think that there's a better time of the year for a visit to a place like this. I was in awe how everything was well kept, "groomed" and had it's own place. I'm sure it requires a lot of hard work, lot of effort and time to keep everything in such a great condition! There were patches of wild growing flowers here and there, which added a lot of charm to the place. To have a garden like that! :)




The Ballymaloe is not only the hotel, restaurant and the cookery school. It's also a range of great food products. Ballymaloe Country Relish is a range of relishes, sauces, jellies... You can buy them all in the Ballymaloe shop (and shops through Ireland and online), as well as all the cookbooks (some of them signed by the author) and food/cooking ingredients that might be hard to get (other than buying them online). I enjoyed a little browse through the shop's many products and was really tempted to fill my bag full! ;) In the end I've left the shop with some Rose water and two cookbooks, not too bad!

Before you ask, YES I was lucky enough to see/meet briefly Myrtle Allen herself! :D Very charming lady with a kind of warmth coming from her. A lady with a vision and huge passion, one that was determined to put local Irish food products on the map and highlighted what Ireland has to offer on the "food scene". I think that she has also opened new ways for people to find and learn about good food. A lady, that Ireland has a lot to be thankful for! :)

Ballymaloe -> I'll be back!


More photos from the trip on Anula's Kitchen FB page HERE.

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Pozdrawiam, Anula.