Right now, on the food front, West Cork’s Ballydehob is having what can only be described as ‘a moment’, even if the area between Schull and Skibbereen has had a very long, and noble, tradition of high regard for food.
Late last year, diminutive Ballydehob villge got a Michelin starred restaurant within its midst, Chestnut, having only opened in March of 2018. As starred chef Rob Krawczyk’s Restaurant heads up to a first anniversary in March, it’s currently ranked No 2 in Ballydehob’s well-seasoned pantheon of quality eating choices (including a genuine Italian, and several quality bar-restaurants). The top Tripadvisor slot is held by Budds, on Main St, Ballydehob.
Chestnut is installed where a local pub had been for many a long time. And, unsurprisingly too perhaps, Ballydehob also has a prime example of a local bar gathering its skirts, and getting on with 21st Century relevancy as a social hub, with the likes of the legendary Levis’ bar on Main Street now in a new generation of extended family involvement, maintaining a 100 year family ownership line, and doing drink, food and spirited and diverse music events: its gentle, generational turnaround even garnered Levis’ its very own RTÉ Documentary on One special.
Casting a net only slightly wider, a second Michelin-starred restaurant, Mews, was also ordained in 2018, the year when the Taste of West Cork Food Festival was shortlisted for Best Food Destination in the inaugural International Travel and Tourism Award 2018, and in 2017 West Cork was deemed Ireland’s No 1 ‘Foodie Destination by the Restaurant’s Association of Ireland.
This didn’t all spring up overnight, or course, and many of the region’s top food growers, producers, chefs and servers are now in a second generation of delivery.
An early, and individual, outlier of the region’s foodie repute may well have been An Teach Dearg, an uber-traditional two-storey West Cork famhouse at remote Scarteenakillen, set on 1.2 acres of pure, rugged countryside north of Ballydehob, Aughadownand Skibbereen.
Now for sale with agent Olivia Hanafin of Sherry FitzGerald O’Neill with a €275,000 price tag, it’s a hideaway home that worked for its living as a restaurant and productive veg garden back nearly 30 years ago.
Teach Dearg had been bought by a ‘blow-in’ couple who renovated the 19th Century stone build, added a library, did up an old stone barn, set the garden to rights, and fed and watered diners, up to 24 of them, in two nightly seatings, Tuesdays to Sundays, thru’ Spring and Summers.
Complete with musical instruments on display from all around the world - many of them played during well-fed and watered evenings of ensconced entertainment, Teach Dearg’s restaurant family members recall (this is now an executor sale) - was run by the couple from 1987 to 1992. It made the Bridgestone Best 100 Guide in 1992, and later the couple branched into another area of special interest, archaeology.
From here they worked together on archeological projects in locations from nearby peninsulae, to Donegal, the Dingle peninsula, and onto islands like the Blaskets and Skellig Michael.
So, good karma seems to be going with the sale of Teach Dearg, listed just a week before Christmas, and already with a few viewings under its belt, according to SFO’N agent Ms Hanafin.
It spans 1,650 sq ft, with two-three bedrooms in the reconfigured interior space, after a staircase was moved and a landing opened up, used for pre-dinner drinks, and among other adaptations some small extensions were added too.
The 1.2 acres include the ruins of another dwelling, while a low-slung former stable close to the main, red-hued house has been made over to a 450 sq ft one-bed self contained space, with solid fuel stove.
The grounds (favoured by birds and butterifles) include former fruit, herb and veg gardens, used to embellish Teach Dearg’s wide ranging cuisine all those deacdes ago, where the signature dish was Mongolian Hot Pot, a broth doted with morsels of fish, meat, fowl and vegetables immersed in a pot of broth heated by charcoal.
Those heady days are fondly recounted by a US-based relative, who also recalls a Teach Dearg diner’s experience where “the cook went out in the garden to get some fresh herbs, noticed the garden needed some attention and stayed to do some weeding, forgetting dinner guests were waiting to be served.”