CASTLEMARTYR has a long history of fine dining. Apart from a brief period when it was better known as Leperstown, it has been the seat of the FitzGerald dynasty, the Earls of Shannon, and even Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones stopped off there on their way to play The Savoy in Cork.
Castlemartyr Resort, as it is now known, was partially built by the earls, and was home to Knights Templar, Walter Raleigh, scientist Robert Doyle and Lord Chief Justice Henry Orerry.
It was once home to a Carmelite college, and back when I was growing up in east Cork, it was the site of Castlemartyr Fete — and it was indeed the site where fate found me, as the first time I saw my wife was there, some 24 years ago now.
So it seems fitting that for our first night out since the birth of our third child we should choose to dine in one of the hotel’s restaurants. I chose Franchini’s, a more casual dining experience, in the five-star surrounds, as given the sleep-deprived state of new parents, there was every chance we would end up face down in our starters.
With that in mind, we opted for a sharing platter. The selection — tomato risotto balls, mozzarella bruschetta, endive salad with gorgonzola, poached pear and mixed herbs and cured meats — was a perfect start.
Communal dining is my favourite way to eat — if I could feed my family from a trough, I probably would. I love the connection you get from ‘you have to try this, here’; this sharing of Epicurean delights with another person is nourishment for the soul. The risotto balls were a delight, the bruschetta a tad too dry, but the combination of the cured meats with the salad and pear was invigorating. Main course was pan fried sea bream, olive oil, red pepper and anchovy panzanella salad for me, roast loin of Irish veal, roasted butternut, confit garlic and red wine jus for my other half.
The bream melted in the mouth, with the salad providing a piquant counter-point to its delicate sweetness.
The veal was cooked just right, tender and delicious — and thanks to modern production, guilt-free. Sides of steamed broccoli and potato wedges were welcome companions to the mains, but the truffle oil mayonnaise with the wedges was a far-too-generous dollop for such a flavoursome material. To complain that there is too much of a certain food on your plate may seem like a First World problem at best, and a bourgeois obscenity at worst, but it just overwhelmed the bowl.
For dessert I chose the chocolate trifle with crazy popping candy — like a minuscule rice crispie crunching and popping in your mouth. The trifle was scrumptious and rich, a balance of cream and chocolate chunks that finally finished me off. My wife opted for brownies; an old reliable. The portion was a tad oversized for such rich treats — brownies are like dark matter they are so dense, and should only be measured out in relative amounts.
Service on the evening was fantastic, prompt and attentive without being overbearing. Notable was the number of families present: We dined early, and were one of the few tables without children; always good to know a place locally that serves good food and is family-friendly.
The surrounds of the hotel itself are beautiful. If you’re going to dine, try to get there ahead of time and have a walk around. From where we were sitting my wife and I could actually see where we first locked eyes a quarter century before. Slightly lessening the romance of that were the damp patches on the ceiling above where we were sitting.
What is it with hotel ceilings and damp patches? I can’t remember the last time I was in one that didn’t have these unsightly blemishes looking down on me. A lick of paint wouldn’t go astray.
But those are minor quibbles. The experience — coming in at a grand total of €86, including an ice-cold Peroni — was excellent, and a welcome break from the hurried meals of a busy family presently under the thumb of an eight-week-old tyrant.
To have these still moments, of good food in a beautiful setting with someone you love, even for a couple of hours, truly is la dolce vita — even if the Italian music playing in the background makes you feel like you’re stuck in a Dolmio ad.
THE TAB: Three courses, with beer €86
HOW TO:Monday to Sunday, 5.30pm to 9.30pm.
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