Although I have always felt exceedingly lucky to have grown up in beautiful Killarney, in the heart of Kerry, I realised recently there is one minor negative. Killarney is home to some of the finest hotels in the country but with my own bed just a stone’s throw away I could never justify checking in to any of them.
There was always one hotel which stood out in my mind as the ultimate Killarney address, its postcard perfect golden fascade overlooking the town. Having asked a number of my friends and family where they would most like to stay in our lovely little town, the result was unanimous. The Killarney Park Hotel seems to have captured all of our imaginations and there was more than a little envy flying around when I mentioned checking in for the night!
As the only five star hotel in the heart of Killarney town, a mere stone’s throw away from breathtaking Killarney National Park, KPH (as it is fondly known) is the luxury destination of choice for the throngs of lovely American tourists the town attracts all Summer, not least because it has earned a spot on the Leading Hotels of the World list, one of only six hotels in Ireland to be annointed with such a prestigious title. Sitting beside Ashford Castle, The Westbury and The Merrion on the list, my expectations were understandably heightened when I spotted this gleaming gold plaque on arrival.
From the moment you ascend the steps and enter the marble clad lobby you know you are in for a treat, first impressions of the Killarney Park Hotel could not but wow even the most seasoned luxury traveller. The desire of each one of the staff to ensure every guest feels spoiled at all times begins right away at check in.
Opening the door of my Junior Suite, I was left wide-eyed. I spotted the first of no less than three flat screen TVs positioned in the most perfect place imaginable – facing into a spacious bath. As if that wasn’t enough to make me want to hop into my robe and never leave, a king size bed had at its foot a remote-control activated flat screen, tucked away. Plush furnishings, a palette of luxe neutrals and splashes of homely tartan made this the ultimate cosy haven.
Exploring what felt more like a deluxe apartment than a hotel room, I discovered a tray of home-made macarons alongside a Nespresso machine – two of my favourite earthly things, which were best enjoyed on the balcony. Overlooking the pristine gardens of KPH, like an oasis in the middle of a bustling hive of a town, Park life, I thought, would suit me quite well.
While I had enjoyed dining and sipping cocktails in the Garden Bar on numerous occasions before, I couldn’t resist popping downstairs to check out the lunch menu. I opted to be saintly with the Seasonal Salad, tossed with sweetly charred pears and dotted with pecans, crumbles of creamy Cashel blue cheese and toasted almonds.
If I could have this delivered for my lunch every day I would be a happy lady – so simple but completely delicious. I noted that every table in the bar was full, with locals enjoying the varied lunch offering. Few opted to dine in the outdoor terrace in October, but with an embedded fireplace and views of the lush green grounds, it was a tempting option despite the chill in the air.
It is worth noting at this point that there is one ‘downside’ to staying in the Killarney Park hotel – you can easily spend the day just floating around the hotel, parking beside various inviting open fireplaces and exploring nooks and crannies, which means dragging yourself out to explore the town can be difficult! I should know, as I spent much of my day cosying up in the opulently furnished drawing room, toasty with a roaring marble-framed fire. I was drawn to this space throughout my stay, a coffee here, a tea there and some hand-crafted pastries, only the tip of the iceberg of the baked bounty on offer.What kind of person could turn down the prospect of a buttery Danish and cappucino by the fire? Not I.
It is very rare that a five star hotel creates an ambience encouraging of such lingering, but there is a definite feeling that each room is to be enjoyed and shared. More enjoyable still, you can take the full ceremonial Afternoon Tea here, in the charming jade walled library or throughout the lounge area and I can scarcely think of a better way to spend an Autumnal afternoon and will be back to do just that.
Luxuriating in my magnificent surroundings with nowhere to be or nothing to do, meant by the time I ascended the grand staircase for dinner I was well and truly relaxed, and this was without indulging in a spa treatment or the tempting outdoor hot tub. Just being surrounded by the homely yet sumptuous decor and the warmth of the team looking after me made me feel cocooned in comfort – KPH is like a treatment for the weary in itself. But the best, somehow, was yet to come.
The Park Restaurant, with the purr of a piano, a stone-walled wine cellar and candlelight is a feast for the eyes and I was keen to see how Chef Heiko Riebandt, formerly of Sheen Falls, would step up to this spectacular stage. We were presented with a menu which was so seasonally driven I could have been strolling throw the fallen leaves in the National Park reading it. While Heiko has developed a stunning ‘Taste of Kerry’ 7 course tasting menu, a day of indulgence and a propensity to covet all things Autumn meant a la carte was calling our names.
I hate myself a little for how much I love foie gras and when I see it on a menu, you can sure that it will soon be in front of me. Organic Goose Foie Gras Terrine arrived, a rich and luxurious tranche, plated to perfection like an Autumn fresco. The charred pear, fig mustard and a quenelle of apple and walnut ‘Waldorf’ ice cream providing sticky sweet contrast to the deliciously dense, gamey terrine. I savoured every bite of what was essentially my dream starter, made even more enjoyable paired with Chateau Belingard Monbazillac 2012, a cousin of the classic foie gras match of Sauternes.
Hayley, my discerning partner in crime for the night, opted for Seared Scallops with Butternut Squash Risotto and Avruga Caviar. There are few delights from the sea quite as alluring as a perfectly cooked scallop and the gentle sweetness of the three plump beauties was complimented by warming, almost buttery squash risotto. A sprinkle of caviar added a pleasing, luxurious spike of salinity, the crowning glory on a delicate and truly satisfying dish.
After a pleasant lull, which I always appreciate, my main course of Venison Loin with Tasmanian Black Pepper arrived. Venison must always be cooked rare and this was a perfect example, cooked sous vide to ensure melting tenderness. A hint of sharp, floral Tasmanian pepper (like a cross between juniper and fennel seed), sour cherry reduction and buttery celeriac mousseline provided all out, mouth-enveloping richness of flavour. The pianist launched into James Blunt’s ‘You’re Beautiful’ and I could have serenaded this plate of seasonal perfection.
Hayley and I both noted that the menu was a well curated collection of contemporary creations and classics and in search of something more delicate than my game feast, she opted for Whole Pan Fried Sea Bass on the Bone. This was a simple dish but quite the showcase – brought to the table whole and expertly de-boned in front of us. Bass this fresh and perfectly cooked needs little adornment, apart from a velvety beurre blanc and a classic side of peas a la Francaise. So many chefs overlook the basics, but Heiko’s classical French training and years in Switzerland shine here.
A ridiculously tempting dessert menu appeared before us and we struggled to narrow down our choices, but agreed instantly that there would be no sharing tonight! Luckily, Heiko came out to chat to us and advised us on dessert choices – he was genuinely keen to hear about every table’s experience and I appreciated this level of hospitality to no end. The only thing better than getting to chat to Heiko was taking his dessert advice – he did not steer us astray.
Passion Fruit Bon Bon with Textures of Valrhona was like hitting the dessert jackpot. Sweet dishes are about childhood whimsy for me and this was as if two of my favourite icy treats, Magnum and Solero, had a (very sophisticated) baby. This dessert was colossal, a mound of magnificent Valrhona heaven – ice cream, whisked wispa-like shards, crunchy ‘soil’ crumbles and passion-fruit filled truffles. With a delicious passion-fruit sorbet to cut through the richness, we were truly in chocolate heaven.
Chestnut Mousse with Riesling Marinated Grapes was yet another artful portrait of the season. A bar of cloud-like, earthy chestnut mousse was framed beautifully by bursts of sweet, unctuous Riesling soaked red and white grapes, fluffy dehydrated sponge and caramelised brandy snap-like shards – which were the perfect mousse vessel. This felt like a walk in the woodlands with the crunch of Autumn leaves beneath your feet. Both desserts, we agreed, were eye-rollingly good.
Leaving the Park Restaurant thoroughly satisfied with what had been an outstanding meal, we both agreed Heiko had knocked it out of the park! I thought to myself how dinner and indeed the whole KPH experience is cloaked in white tablecloth, five star luxury without the stiff upper lip, stuffiness or pretension, which is such a difficult balance to achieve.
Heading back up the grand staircase, I will admit, I couldn’t resist catching a movie while soaking in an Elemis bubble bath before sinking in to what I can 100% say was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. I have joked that I live my life in quiet anticipation of my next breakfast buffet and this was the only thing worth leaving such a bed for, served until 11.30am on Saturdays, much to my lazy delight. While table service of a wide range of classics from Eggs Benedict to French Toast were on offer, grazing around the breakfast spread is my favourite and I was delighted to see home-baked ham freshly sliced, sumptuous breads baked in house and most delightful of all – a tray of fresh local honeycomb. This is attention to detail on another level.
The Killarney Park Hotel is to hotels what fluffy robes and slippers are to a guest – the ultimate warm, inviting and luxurious touch, attributable in no small part to the fact that it is a family run property, with the Treacy’s aiming to welcome their guests here with the warmth they would offer guests to their own home. This ethos carries through to each and every member of staff, and the myriad fireplaces dotted throughout the hotel are certainly not the only feature exuding warmth.
Too often, having sky high expectations of a place leads to disappointment but the Killarney Park excelled itself on all fronts. REM sang about how tough it is leaving New York and these lamenting tones resonated perfectly with my feelings as I packed my bags and headed to check out of the Killarney Park Hotel. I genuinely felt pangs of longing to stay. Leaving KPH…never easy.
Prices for a Winter Escape for 2 with 2 Nights B&B and Dinner on one night in the Park Restaurant start from €225pps.
Killarney Park Hotel
Killarney Town Centre
T: +353 64 66 35555
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law I undertook a PhD, but a preference for cookbooks to textbooks persisted. As a (self-confessed!) demon in the kitchen, I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.