So often in life it’s the little things that make a difference;- those little touches and attention to detail that turn something pleasant into a truly memorable experience. I was reminded of this during my recent visit to The Ice House Hotel & Spa where, from the moment that you first check in, you get the sense that you have arrived somewhere special and that your needs as a guest really do matter. As I say… it’s the little things that make a difference such as the genuine welcome that you receive and the plate of freshly baked sweet treats that are placed in your bedroom.
The Ice House is situated on the outskirts of the bustling County Mayo town of Ballina and sits perched on the banks of the River Moy which is famous for its salmon fishing. The older part of the hotel was originally the house where the ice was kept to preserve the large quantities of salmon which were exported to Scotland during the Victorian era. The old house has been seamlessly incorporated into the contemporary architecture but more importantly the building sits comfortably in the surrounding landscape and does not look out of place. The hotel, with 32 rooms including five suites, has a lovely intimate feel to it but at the same time it is decorated in an opulent style throughout and oozes luxury.
My spacious bedroom was located in the newer part of the hotel with stunning views of the River Moy through the floor-to-ceiling windows from where I could see cormorants performing rather fascinating wing-stretching exercises in the distance. The large king-sized bed was covered with a wonderful goose-down duvet, firm pillows and a beautiful blanket made at the local Foxford Woollen Mills. The luxury feel followed through to the bathroom with its almost industrial-looking polished stone sinks, large shower and free standing bath tub. Toiletries are by Voya Seaweed Products – an Irish company – and as I was to find out the following morning are also used in the Ice House’s award winning spa.
After settling into my room, I decided to wander down to the bar which is located on the ground floor adjacent to the restaurant. I was pleased to find that the bar is well-stocked with a broad range of beers, spirits and cocktails available. I ordered a Shortcross Gin & Tonic which, despite the fact that evening was setting in, I decided to enjoy on the balcony looking out onto the river. As I took my seat outside on a large comfortable couch in front of one of the beautiful thick black limestone tables my bartender arrived with a Foxford blanket to wrap myself in should I feel chilly… and again I thought… it’s the little things that make a difference.
I had arranged to meet an old friend for a late dinner in the hotel’s Pier Restaurant. Part of the restaurant is in the original ice-storage room and leads out to a newly constructed glass extension where breakfast is served each morning. The restaurant has a lovely spacious feel and like the rest of the hotel has been decorated in a smart, elegant style with white-washed walls and colourful artworks.
Head Chef Anthony Holland has designed a succinct but appetising seasonal menu that also makes room for a number of daily specials. After feasting on some well-made breads including a brown soda and an onion-flavoured white bread we were treated to an unexpected amuse bouche consisting of vegetables, pea tendrils, goat’s cheese and air-dried lamb. This small plate of food was full of distinct flavours that awakened the taste-buds and was a wonderful start to our meal.
My starter of Crispy Ham Hock with Leek & Savoy Cabbage looked absolutely beautiful on the plate and tasted heavenly. Soft and slightly salty meat was combined into a disc before being bread-crumbed and pan-fried until golden. It was served with a rich creamy sauce that included broad beans and pancetta lardons. My companion’s starter of Pan-Fried Kidneys was excellent with a lovely sticky sauce that was well-seasoned and full of piquant mustard. Many people avoid offal but this dish was a perfect example of how delicious it can be when cooked well.
Both main courses were also superb. My Pan- Seared Rump of Lamb was accompanied by a silky-smooth butternut squash purée, root vegetables and a fantastic mini-shepherd’s pie. A cucumber and mint dressing cut through the overall richness. This was a dish that celebrated lamb in all its glory and I loved it. My guest’s Pan-Fried John Dory was a simple dish that accentuated the sweetness of the fish. It was served with steamed broccoli, pan-juices and a pepper sauce. To accompany our mains we ordered sides of sautéed mushrooms and buttered seasonal vegetables.
The wine list is impressive and contains an interesting selection of wines at a range of different price points. There are also a number of decent wines available by the glass. We decided to go for something a little unusual and ordered a bottle of a 2009 Hochar Carignan Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. This wine which is made from a blend of cabernet sauvignon and carignan grapes is full of concentrated fruit flavours that stood up particularly well to my lamb dish.
We finished our meal with a couple of crowd-pleasing desserts that were very different but equally delicious. My Apple Tart Tatin with its crisp pastry base and caramelised fruit topping was everything that you would expect from this classic dessert whilst every element on my companion’s Chocolate Tasting Plate and in particular the chocolate pave were a chocolate lover’s dream.
I awoke the next morning after a deep sleep in my exceedingly comfortable bed and made my way down to a leisurely breakfast in the glass atrium located off the main restaurant. I chose pastries and fruit from the well-stocked continental breakfast selection which also included yoghurts, cereal, cheese, breads and juices and then ordered Eggs Benedict from the cooked breakfast. The eggs benedict were cooked perfectly and set me up for the day ahead. Tea and toast finished my morning feast.
The Ice House has won many awards for its Chill Spa including the Best Boutique Spa at the 2014 Tatler Spa Awards. The Chill Spa is an oasis of calm and in addition to an outdoor hot tub overlooking the River Moy, there is also a quirky barrel sauna and a futuristic-looking steam room. It offers a broad range of treatments using Voya Organic Seaweed Treatments. I had booked a Signature Massage under therapist Celine which takes approximately 60 minutes. Without a doubt this was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life and left me with a very zen demeanour for the rest of the week. I loved that way that the Chill Spa and its relaxation rooms have been designed so that they face out onto the river which gives you the sense that you are almost part of the landscape and added to my overall feeling of calm.
I thoroughly enjoyed my short stay at the Ice House Hotel & Spa and would recommend it without hesitation to anyone seeking a break from the stresses and strains of everyday life. From the moment you arrive you feel cocooned from the outside world and I found myself floating around the hotel feeling more relaxed than I have felt for ages. Service is outstanding and staff are friendly and keen to make sure that every aspect of your stay is enjoyable. Everything about the Ice House has quality stamped on it and the attention to detail makes this a place that you will remember.
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.