On the main street of Borris in Co Carlow, you will find the Step House Hotel. Step inside this establishment and you will find yourself enveloped in a relaxed atmosphere, sophisticated decor and the warmest of greetings.
I visited recently to see how Head Chef, Alan Foley was settling back into the family business having been away from his beloved kitchen in the Step House Hotel for almost eighteen months. The family has been through tumultuous times since 2015, losing the hotel for a period but reclaiming their keys and rightful place at the helm of the Step House just five short weeks ago.
Our table was waiting for us in the 1808 Bar – a room with high ceilings, mahogany and leather reminiscent of libraries and drawing rooms of yester year. It is cosy and inviting and the perfect place to relax and enjoy exquisite food.
And what of the food? The menu offers a variety of dishes with a huge emphasis on local produce. In fact Chef Alan does not just get to know his produce, but the producers themselves. He can often be found sitting with local producers having a bite to eat and chatting about what’s in season. Alan develops relationships – he not only knows where to get the finest sirloin, he knows the producer of that sirloin, and indeed the producer’s family.
Relationships are important to him, and not just with producers but with his fellow chefs and not least his customers. Whether you pop into the Step House Hotel for a sandwich or to celebrate the most important day of your life, the VIP treatment you receive is the same. The care and consideration that Alan shows in his kitchen has spread throughout all areas of the hotel offering guests a truly special welcome, no matter how big or small the occasion.
That care and consideration could also be found in every dish presented to us on our recent visit. The breads (sourdough, brown and curry) are homemade and served with delicious Cuinneog fermented butter. Wine chosen (a classic Spanish Rioja that evoked special memories of sunny Spain with it’s eucalyptus and baked fruit aroma), we settled back as our pre-starter arrived.
Before us were cured and charred mackerel, cucumber chutney, avocado and dulse. Silence descended as we savoured every mouthful. The combination of flavours and the texture of the mackerel were incredible and topping it with a sesame tuile was inspired. The scene was truly set for an evening of sensory sensations.
For starters we chose the Pork Pithivier and the Goats Cheese Parfait. Using local free-range pork and making his own pastry for the pithivier, Alan has constructed a most comforting starter full of flavour and serving it with piccalilli, apricot and mustard brings an excellent roundness to the dish. Using the lightest, creamiest Ardsallagh goats cheese and accompanying it with spiced muesli, apples, beets and cubes of brioche, the second started proved equally as flavoursome.
Moving on to mains we chose the John Dory and the Fillet of Beef. The fish was roasted to perfection and served with a mussel vinaigrette, dill and broccoli – all of my favourite things brought together to create an excellent dish.
The beef, also cooked perfectly, was presented with a roast garlic puree, Portobello mushroom and oxtail. A knife has passed through butter with more difficulty than our knife through this beef. A classic dish that had me planning my next trip to the Step House Hotel.
Moving on to the sweet treats, our lovely waiter recommended the Sheeps Yogurt Cream and it didn’t disappoint, for how could one not love this aesthetically perfectly pink dish with the classic combination of cream, rhubarb and ginger.
Chocolate lovers will not be disappointed either with the deep indulgence of the chocolate dessert offering, with complimenting flavours from espresso foam and banana sorbet. Tea and coffee were served with delightful homemade shortbread and it was only then we realised that hours had passed by unnoticed such was our enjoyment.
Chef Alan Foley is old school. He is a man on a mission. His motto is to get back to basics when it comes to food and it’s clear that he has no difficulty getting down and dirty with good, wholesome produce. He loves to source wild herbs and flowers and he has huge respect for seasonality. He places great importance on traditional kitchen skills, spending a lot of time teaching his staff to get the basics right. He exudes passion and dedication – whether it’s a ham and cheese sandwich or a Gressingham duck, the respect, the dedication, the attention to detail are the same.
And as for his plans? Well the man has no shortage of these. Perfecting his (near perfect) menu, growing his own produce at Step House, sharing his skills with dedicated staff, sketching ideas and refurbishing dining areas are foremost on his mind for the future. And speaking of the future, I can see stars of the Michelin variety in the not too distant future for this Carlow man. His incredible talent equally matches his burning passion and if that wasn’t enough, Alan Foley is a really nice guy. If you visit the Step House Hotel I’m sure you will agree.
The Step House Hotel,
Co. Carlow ,
T: +353 (0)599773209
CEO of Tumbldown Media, Fiona Dillon is the creator of the Freddy Buttons brand, created to promote healthier eating amongst children. She is a feature writer for Irish Country magazine and TheTaste.ie. Her first book, Food From An Irish Garden (Orpen Press, 2013) was published in 2013 and she is Great Taste and RAI awards judge. She is also Food Correspondent for KCLR96FM.