Sowing the seeds for a family break

Esther McCarthy takes the family off for an impressive weekend of food and fun in the Hideaway of the Year for 2014.

Sowing the seeds for a family break

WHEN you feel like you want to get away from it all, it seems ridiculous to bring the kids. But a change is as good as a rest, and if Georgina Campbell declares a place the Hideaway of the Year for 2014, then it’s worth a shot. Plus, they can provide a local babysitter. What are we waiting for?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

It was late when we arrived at The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry. We tumbled in the pillared front door, past colourful wellies and into the welcoming arms of John Edward. There’s a real personal touch here, no sleek reception desks or key cards, it feels like you’re visiting a home — albeit a rather fancy home — of a friend. A friend whose house is on ten acres of gardens.

THE ROOM

The country house has 16 guest rooms, we were in a huge family room with the little dudes in their very own beds. The two-year-old fell out of his and still slept right through the night. King size luxury for the adults, with pristine white bedspreads and everything just-so. On the mantle piece is a clock, with a little plaque telling us it was presented to Miss N Salmons by her fellow teachers at Wesleyan Sunday School, Hardway, August 1 1881.

It’s a delightful mix of modern comforts and old-fashioned charm. Sitting at the vintage dresser, I read aloud from the Book of Home Advice about the coming out of a daughter. “Conversation — her voice should be ever gentle and low.”

“What’s that?” says husband from the bathroom. “A VOICE EVER GENTLE AND LOW!”

I would not have done well back in the olden days.

In the present, I’m starving, so we head for dinner.

THE FOOD

The Mustard Seed and Dan Mullane are renowned around these parts and for good reason. The four-course fixed price dinner is hugely popular. Served from 7-9.30pm for €60 per person, we went down as early as we could to try and avoid the rush.

With kids, it’s get in, get out, please God, let the ketchup come out of that lovely linen. This restaurant was wasted on the little feckers. We wised up and enlisted the talents of the local babysitter the next night and dined at our leisure. Dishes like pan-fried Kerry scallops served with nasturtium jelly, vegetables à la grecque and salted peanut praline can reveal your ignorance when precocious nosey children start inquiring what ‘a la grecque’ means.

Mains had me on a surer foot with pan-fried Irish Hereford rib eye of beef (that’s a steak, love), goat’s cheese and celeriac risotto, roast almond mousse and Iron Age rare breed pork profiterole. It was all as good as it sounds. Mullane and his team grow their own organic fruit, vegetables and herbs and they even have their own hens for fresh eggs in the morning. Which brings us to breakfast. Served in the same dining room with blue and white gingham transforming the ambience, sunlight coming in the huge windows, we had freshly squeezed orange juice, served in a giant Nicholas Mosse jug, homemade granola and the scrambled eggs were some of the best we ever had.

THE AMENITIES

The kids loved exploring around the house — it’s a treasure trove. Elephant collections on mantles, Buddhas on fireplaces and glass cake stands full of curly shells, it’s a magical place. John tells us the art and collectibles — including works by Pauline Bewick, Jack Donovan, and neighbour Michael Canning — were picked up by Dan in his travels. Even the restaurant’s cutlery has a story to tell with pieces picked up at auctions with some bearing the mark of the Eccentric Club in London or Moore’s Hotel in Blackpool.

WHAT TO DO

You could try angling at Lough Gur, take a trek up Knockfernia hill or just go into the playground in Adare. The little lough and dam in there kept the boys busy for ages.

Curraghchase forest park is 15 minutes drive from Adare if you fancy a trail through the trees.

www.adarevillage.com

If you want pampering, head into Limerick to the spa and One Pery Square. I ditched the boys and headed in for a Voya muscle melt muslin bag massage.

Using Certified Organic Irish Seaweed, it was 45 minutes of bliss and for €60 it was well worth it. My skin felt amazing and I got to take home the muslin bags to use again.

It’s minutes from the centre of Limerick, set in the vaulted basement of gorgeous Georgian building. Well worth a visit. www.oneperysquare.com

We wanted to go somewhere family-friendly in Limerick and the Cornstore was recommended by a friend. It was awarded 2013/2014 RAI best kids menu and it’s easy to see why.

Super-friendly staff, loads of room at the tables and a really fabulous menu. It was great to see things like pan seared fillet of cod and sirloin steak and oven roast salmon on a kids’ menu and at very reasonable prices. They ate every morsel too.

And when the kids at the table next to us (it really wasn’t us this time) spilled a jug of cordial, it was sorted out with no drama. Plus they had my very favourite liquorice tea by Java Republic that I can’t get ANYWHERE anymore. Even online. First world problems, how are ye.

Highly recommended and they have face painters on Sundays from 1.30pm-3.30pm.

www.cornstorerestaurantslimerick.ie

Also check out www.limerickcityofculture.ie  for updated events.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Our family room was €199 per night inclusive of breakfast. At the moment you can reserve a midweektwo-night stay for €99 per room per night, inclusive of full breakfast. Go to the website to check for special offers as they regularly post new ones.

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge. Ballingarry, Co Limerick. T: 069 68508, E: mustard@indigo.ie  W: www.mustardseed.ie

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