The Irish food and restaurant scene has never been more locally minded. But nowadays, there is a number of kitchen accommodations taking their sustainability to the next level, not only by supporting many hyper-local producers, but also by growing much of their fresh produce on site. Avocados are out — Irish-climate-loving menu staples such as raspberry bliss berries, rainbow chard, and flavour-packed parsnips are very much in.
And so enter the Wicklow Escape, the latest Ireland’s Blue Book member. Formerly known as the Elbow Room, last summer, owner, Lisa Wilkenson, teamed up with Michelin-accoladed executive chef Danni Barry to create the ultimate gourmet getaway. Set in the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, I arrived at its cottage door-step last month to experience what’s being billed as the ultimate forest break for foodies.
I’m guided by host Christoph to my deluxe room, which is set in a courtyard terrace of garden lodges flanking the main cottage. There’s a lush yet earthy simplicity to its décor which features handmade furniture, a trademark cloud bed (which a growing list of guests have already gone on to order), artisan coffee from pottery mugs crafted right on site, and bathroom products from the Irish company Mise, including nothing less than organic body butter. I’m already getting hungry at the prospect of the shower!
It’s a cosy haven even if the deliberate absence of a TV or radio with the sheer serenity of the site means a little sound carries from the neighbouring rooms. The room also feels a little more compact than perhaps it is, as bar the main door, there’s no natural light streaming through. But somehow this almost compliments the sense of a culinary retreat I’m about to indulge in here.
Winter feasting takes place in the Wicklow Escape’s wonderfully ambient Long Hall dining room; magically staged according to the season thanks to its very own interior designer. I’m indulging in Danni Barry’s five-course dining experience which focuses on local, sustainable (and pretty outstanding) fare. It kicks off with a pastry tart of cured organic trout from Kilkenny, infused with beetroot and served with an unfiltered Italian sparkling wine.
We’re only at the canapés and I’ve already run out of superlatives. That’s followed by a plate of turbot with bone broth and celeriac paired with a dreamy, creamy Chardonnay, while my main is the finest venison I’ve ever had, served with grilled garden cabbage, creamy mash, and a brambly Tuscan Montepulciano. Dessert is a flavour-deep caramel cup with white mousse, boldly paired with a chilled sherry, while a final homemade orange truffle creates the final flavour bomb of the soirée.
Lulled into a trippy food coma, you’d wonder how you could top that incredible experience — but the Wicklow Escape has a few surprises up its sustainable sleeves, not least its wood-fired hot-tub which I’ve a late-night booking for. And so, after a quick change into my fluffy robe, I steal up the wooded trail to the keg jacuzzi, watching a starry Wicklow Mountain night above me. It’s an incredible natural escape, just me amid the deer. But is it too soon to dream about breakfast?
The next morning, that brunch is served with wonderfully imaginative options including buttermilk pancakes with maple, fruit compôte, and yogurt, and cinnamon French toast with caramelised organic apple, cream cheese, and walnut praline. There’s not an avocado toast in sight. I opt for a skillet of potato rosti and spinach with a warm shakshuka, with eggs swapped out for halloumi. On a cool winter’s morning, it’s the most incredibly satisfying dish and one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had in Ireland.
Given its scenic location, I couldn’t leave without a woodland wander, so I wrapped up my stay exploring one of the trails surrounding the retreat. Winding uphill from the Escape through pure Irish Christmas tree country, I reach the fringes of the Sugar Loaf mountain. The Wicklow Escape? It’s certainly an other-worldly food paradise.
Lisa Wilkinson has magicked a real gem in the Wicklow Mountains which offers the most idyllic rustic ethos for those who love their food — and where it comes from.
At €525 per night for an all-inclusive dining escape, it is a treat, but Danni Barry’s credentials shine through with the produce and dishes on offer and it’s best to think of this as a food experience for the memory bank. That’s unless you’re tempted to go for a return visit.
One of my favourite hotels in Ireland, Gregans Castle in Ballvaughan has been ploughing its own farm-to-fork furrow long before it was trendy. Located in the heart of the Burren, the property’s kitchen is led by head chef, Robbie McCauley.
His team serves creative and modern dishes using fresh produce from their organic garden as well as a trove of local and artisan food producers. Incredible dishes such as organic Burren lamb and game, and fresh Atlantic fish and shellfish feature frequently. You can also enjoy the hotel’s fine wine list featuring many organic wines. B&B from €250
If you really love to see how your kitchen garden grows, the beautiful Cliff at Lyons in Kildare is offering guests a really immersive experience for food lovers.
Check-in and enjoy a guided tour of the property’s Aimsir farm and kitchen gardens where you’ll learn everything about polytunnels and potager gardens in this horticultural heaven. Afterwards, enjoy a smorgasbord of snacks in its Michelin two-star restaurant.
The Aimsir Farm Experience includes an overnight B&B stay, a two-hour farm talk and walk, an Aimsir cocktail, and charcuterie board and a three-course dinner in The Mill Restaurant.