It’s easy to see why Dunmore East in County Waterford is such a popular holiday destination. This charming fishing village sits comfortably nestled into the cliffs and offers up stunning panoramic views of the ocean where the world’s oldest working lighthouse at Hook Head can be seen in the distance. The surrounding coastline is made up of headlands, coves and sandy beaches begging to be explored. The village has a curiously French feel to it and there were many times during my brief visit that I was reminded of the attractive little coastal towns that can be found in Brittany.
Locals are friendly and welcoming but for me, the thing that is most attractive about Dunmore East is that it has eschewed the extreme tacky commercialism of so many other seaside towns and it feels beautifully unspoiled. What visitors can expect to find is a lively seaside town which offers plenty of outdoor activities and also has many fabulous places to eat, drink and stay in. As home to one of the five designated National Fishery Harbours, it is also a busy fishing port with the second highest figure for fish landing in the country after Killybegs in County Donegal.
At the centre of the village, pristine thatched cottages overlook Lawlor’s Strand where, despite the soft rain that was falling when I arrived, children played happily at the shoreline building sandcastles and splashing each other with sea-water. Although Dunmore East is located relatively close to Waterford City, you really get the sense that it is a place where you can cast aside the stresses of everyday life. We all need the chance to relax and un-wind sometimes and I was really looking forward to doing exactly that during my stay at The Strand Inn which is known for its warm welcome, comfortable rooms and top-notch food.
There has been a tavern on the site of The Strand Inn for close to 300 years, dating back to when the coves around Dunmore East were rife with smugglers. These days it is a charming family-run boutique hotel with 15 bedrooms, a bar and restaurant. Originally opened in 1965 by Michael Foyle and his wife Isabella, the hotel is now run by his grandson Clifden Foyle who oversaw the the hotel’s recent refurbishment.
Inside, I was greeted by the friendly staff and shown to my large, comfortable room on the top floor of the hotel. I Immediately loved the spacious but simply decorated room with its enormous bed, comfortable couch and the spectacular views of the sea which could be seen through its windows. Walls painted white along with the white bed-linen gave this unpretentious but tastefully decorated room a lovely airy feel whilst striped velvet cushions added a cheeky splash of colour and prevented the room from seeming too austere.
After my long drive I was keen to stretch my legs so I quickly unpacked my case and headed downstairs for a pre-dinner stroll. Luckily the sun had decided to make an appearance and as I passed by on my way to the beach some guests were dining al fresco on the hotel’s terrace. At the beach, I kicked off my shoes and paddled at the water’s edge. The wonderful feeling of the sand between my toes transported me back in time and I became lost in my memories of fun-filled childhood visits to the seaside. Hunger eventually got the better of me, so I wandered back up to the hotel in time for my dinner reservation.
The restaurant at The Strand Inn has been cleverly designed with large expansive windows to showcase the wonderful sea views through its windows. The dining room is bright and spacious and feels stylish but not intimidating. The Foyles are avid art collectors and many of the paintings that they have acquired over the years hang on the walls of the restaurant and throughout the rest of the hotel.
Given The Strand Inn’s location, it is understandable that seafood features heavily on the dinner menu, but there are also plenty of options for meat-eaters and vegetarians. I was delighted to see lambs’ liver featured on the list of starters but also really wanted to try the crab claws starter from the daily ‘Specials Board’. After some agonising, I decided to order both!
As I waited for my starters to arrive I chatted to Clifden Foyle, nibbled on the very tasty homemade soda bread and sipped on a rather nice glass of Prosecco. Clifden is a charismatic host and you really feel that he wants each guest to enjoy their time at The Strand Inn. Throughout the evening, he stopped by the tables and talked to the diners many of whom he knew by name as they had stayed at the Strand Inn previously.
People can be a little bit squeamish about offal but my Pan-Fried Lambs’ Liver, Caramelised Red Onion, Celeriac Purée (€9.50) was a deeply flavoured and exceptionally delicious plate of food where the liver was cooked to perfection and still nicely pink in the middle. The rich and sticky sauce with its peppery notes was the perfect accompaniment whilst the creamy celeriac mash managed to calm everything down on the palate. I loved every single mouthful.
My other starter – Pan-Fried Crab Claws in Garlic Butter (€14.50) was also fantastic. It was full of garlic and made with loads of butter which dribbled down my chin in a very satisfying way as I sucked the sweet crab-meat from the claws. Both dishes were very different but equally good and it was obvious to me that there was talent in the kitchen and that a lot of care and attention had gone into creating the dishes.
Although tempted by the Turbot in Breadcrumbs with Hollandaise Sauce I decided to go all out and order the Baked Whole Lobster with Lemon & Dill Butter (€32.00) for my main course. It is so easy to overcook lobster, but this was wonderfully tender and a delight to eat and had been prepared so that it was easy to pick out the meat. Sides of steamed vegetables, baby potatoes and potato gratin were also lovely.
The dessert menu features many old-school classics including one of my favourites – Sticky Toffee Pudding. In the end however, I decided to go for the Strawberry Pavlova (€6.50) which was everything you would want it to be – light and airy with a slightly chewy centre, packed full of juicy strawberries and cream. Simple, but delicious. In many ways, the Pavlova reflected the rest of the food at The Strand Inn, which is simply prepared but primarily focused on flavour.
The Strand Inn Restaurant has a small but nicely chosen wine-list with a good selection of wines available by the glass but I was happy with the Prosecco. After dinner, I decided to pop into the hotel’s bar for a drink. I was delighted to see that the recently launched Wexford Strawberry Gin from the local Blackwater Distillery was available so promptly ordered a Gin & Tonic which I enjoyed tremendously. The bar was packed full of patrons and holiday makers and is evidently one of the village’s popular venues. Traditional music sessions take place regularly and on warm evenings patrons can sit out and enjoy their drinks on the hotel’s seaside terrace.
After a deep and refreshing night’s sleep in my comfortable bed, I awoke to the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs. I had left my bedroom window slightly ajar and during the night the tide had come in. Still groggy and slightly disorientated I was confused by the sound of water so close by and for a moment or two thought that I was on a cruise ship. I quickly realised where I was and in a relaxed fashion got up out of bed, showered and made my way down to breakfast.
Breakfast is served in the dining room and when the weather is favourable can also be served on the terrace. The breakfast menu is impressive with loads of tempting dishes on it. A full breakfast buffet offers a wide selection of fruits, breads, platters of meat and cooked breakfasts include kedgeree, kippers, haddock and the traditional Irish Breakfast. After a bowl of cereal and some fruit, I decided to order Eggs Benedict. A pair of perfectly cooked poached eggs sat atop two toasted slices of the same wonderful soda bread that I had sampled at dinner the previous night along with slices of nicely salty bacon. The dish was completed with a light and tangy hollandaise sauce. This was the perfect start to my day.
As I packed up my bags and got ready to leave, I can truly say that The Strand Inn is somewhere that I will definitely return to. I have stayed in many top hotels around Ireland and whilst they may be luxuriously decorated and situated on large country estates etc., they often feel soulless and as a guest it sometimes seems that you are on a hospitality conveyor-belt. This is not the case at The Strand Inn. You know that your needs as an individual really do matter. Many of the guests return year-after-year and having spent some time there, I can understand why.
The Strand Inn
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Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.