Kerry is known for many great things, sunshine regrettably is not one of them. However, we were more than fortunate when we visited on a sunny Saturday as we were greeted by sunshine showcasing the rolling hills of the Kingdom in all its glory. Over four hours from Dublin, Kenmare is no doubt a long old drive but boy, is it worth it when you see the unrivalled natural beauty that is all encompassing. It’s one of the few places in Ireland we never grow tired of and each visit it amazes us just how fortunate we are to have such natural beauty on our shores.
Driving over the narrow stone bridge that leads you to Sheen Falls Lodge you will be taken aback by the stunning setting this hotel is located in. Originally a fishing lodge, the Falls is such a unique destination as the hotel owners also own the river which surrounds the 300 acre site from mouth to source, which is something not many people can boast. Their tagline is “A Different World” and once you land here you will understand why. From the moment we pulled up to the door we were greeted with the warmest of Kerry welcomes. Sheen Falls just has a calmness about it that, probably due the sound of the falls themselves, puts you at ease and really makes you feel hidden from the world.
The rooms here are all well appointed, with lots of windows and light so you have the advantage of a striking view no matter where you are. They are also exceptionally spacious with a modern feel and the usual luxurious additions you would expect in a five star hotel, like huge six foot beds that are probably the most comfortable we have ever slept in.
The main reason for our visit was of course for the food, being famed for their smoked salmon we were treated to a tour of their on site smoke house by Executive Chef Philip Brazil. This is a unique opportunity to see first hand the effort that goes into the food here and the tour is open to any guests who wish to book. The Sheen Salmon farmed on the river when in season are used for breakfast, lunch and dinner and can also be purchased as a gift on departure, which is vacuumed packed and presented in a handmade Sheen Falls box. The team uses a food grade ash which gives the salmon a delicious subtleness in the smoking. The smoker is also used for chicken, pork and duck which proves popular with weddings as a starter.
Philip himself has worked in many five star kitchens such as Fota Island, but the lure of Kenmare proved too strong for him and he, along with wife Fidelma, have put down roots and now live only a few minutes down the road. However, being a Dub, we know the All Ireland would have been a divisive topic in the kitchen!
The menu in The Falls restaurant is creative and utilises the best of Irish produce in a modern way. They offer a two course from the A la Carte for €49pp or a three course for €65pp with the option of a seven course tasting menu for €89pp if you really want to experience the wonders of Brazil’s skills. We settled on the latter which begins with a glass of champagne, always a good way to kick things off. This was followed by a much anticipated “Taste of Kerry Salmon”, ash smoked and cured earlier in the day and served in two ways, a cubed semi cured salmon and sliced smoked salmon. Throw in a perfect pea puree, minted garden peas, beetroot and a subtle lemon oil and you have an outstanding plate of food.
Second course up was a Foie Gras and Duck Terrine, velvety textures with lightly toasted bread, sweet fig jam, summer leaves and crisp little micro cress. The Pan Seared Kerry King Scallops sounded too good to resist, so when asked if we could swap this out instead of a second terrine our request was happily met. The dish was so good we suggested this should definitely feature on the tasting menu. Two perfectly sized scallops arrived accompanied by the finest Sneem black pudding you will ever sample, served as a luscious little bon bon which is deep fried to give it a crunchy exterior and placed over a creative cauliflower and vanilla puree. A chefy touch of red wine and 15 year old balsamic vinegar finished off the excellent presentation.
The Chef’s Sorbet of mango proved to be the perfect little palate cleanser, tart and sweet with a creamy ice cream like texture.
After tasting Peter O’Sullivan’s black pudding we had high hopes for this fine butcher’s air dried lamb. The main of the night was a Ring of Kerry Lamb Duo, which chef Philip recommends serving pink to retain the flavour of the meat. A grilled cannon and confit of shoulder expertly plated with wild garlic gnocchi, a sour mint jelly, a dash of thyme essence and our favourite inclusion, a chunky Jameson Whiskey carrot barrel.
Now this is where Ballymaloe trained Pastry Chef Niamh Switzer got her chance to excel, a pre-dessert surprise of a Deconstructed Baileys Cheesecake with almond tuile, banana crisp and a welcome helping of cassis puree all made for a simple but splendid dish.
Following a little break in service we were treated to a decadent Dark Chocolate Fondant, perfectly cooked with a warm and bitter oozing centre. Cherry and chocolate may be a traditional match but the addition of the cherry sorbet with marinated cherry to the side brought a modern feel to the plate.
We finished with tea and coffee and passed on the petit fours as we were more than well fed at this stage. For the quality of the food we had the tasting menu more than represents excellent value, throw in the unparalleled views from the dining room and you will find it hard to fault any aspect of the dining experience. Service was as expected, impeccable but with a local charm and and impressive knowledge of the menu, ingredients and producers. Staff are not only well trained by Deputy Manager Ciaran, whose ease and charm with guests seems infectious, but clearly enjoy what they do and that really shines through every part of the hotel. This is why Condé Nast magazine rated them as the No.1 resort in Europe 2014.
If you are looking for a spellbinding location to reconnect and switch off from all of life’s distractions Sheen Falls should be top of the list, it has left a lasting memory on us and is somewhere we would love to return if only for the salmon!
You can experience the Falls Gourmet Experience and overnight stay from €299.
This is a Captivating Taste we cannot recommend enough.
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.