So it’s the last of the summer holidays and you fancy a little staycation (away from the kids) somewhere you can indulge a little, somewhere that is a short drive and yet feels like a total escape from the city. Kilkenny has long been one of my favourites places to wander around and while away the weekend.
Usually I veer towards the city but last weekend our destination was 20 minutes outside in the idyllic location of Mount Juliet Estate. Steeped in history, this 18th century Georgian style manor has been lovingly restored and extended over the years and is now home to a world class, Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, equestrian centre, health club and even boasts its own private fishing along its 2.5 miles of the River Nore.
I always felt Mount Juliet was one of those romantic, luxury escapes but never somewhere I might bring the kids or even spend a girlie weekend in. Dining in the Michelin Lady Helen and devouring Ken Harker’s spectacular plates of food is still one of my fondest culinary memories.
That said this weekend was not about fine dining it was about relaxation and some badly needed chill time. About six months ago the estate added on a new wing where once had been stables and outbuildings is now an elegant, more casual little hideaway called Hunters Yard.
Ideal for those seeking laid back luxury without the fuss but still maintaining the high standards you would expect in a venue with Mount Juliet’s reputation for excellence.
Rooms are more contemporary than what you will find in the Manor, muted tones, spacious but still retaining an air of luxury.
Hunters Lodge is a more affordable option for those looking for luxury in a relaxed setting, dining options here reflect that. We booked dinner in The Hound, their newly opened restaurant offering a more casual atmosphere where families, couples and pretty much every type of diner would feel comfortable.
The menu is well laid out with some more interesting options than you may have expected to find for hotel dining, but then again Harker himself has overseen the menu so no surprise it’s a competent list in tune with the clientele.
First up was a starter of Crab on Toast, creamy crab with a lemon and tarragon aioli, pickled onion and radish shaving made a nice introduction to what we could expect for the evening ahead.
My partner in crime opted for a simple plate of Asparagus & Truffle, chopped egg, a truffle vingerette and a delicate helping of Parmesan shavings, an unexpected delight when paired with our bottle of Biscardo Oropasso 2016, a blend of Chardonnay and Garganega grapes which tasted more like a citrusy, Sauvignon Blanc oddly enough.
Mains are safe enough but each dish has Harker’s stamp with something a little unique in every one – Pan Fried Fillet of Cod, chunks of courgettes, sweet garden peas and mussels all in a superb dashi broth elevating the fish to a completely different level.
Across the table “The Artist” had chosen an enviable dish of Apricot Glazed Confit Duck Leg, shredded spiced potato cake, with a spicy Chinese cabbage, cashew nut and apricot salad. A fine dish but no match for the flavour bomb that was the cod.
It’s no secret I have a sweet tooth, in fact what more of a surprise is that I have any teeth at all giving my penchant for all things sugar coated. The Hound had a strong team of young chefs and a very talented young pastry chef named Hannah Thompson, a name I think you will be hearing a lot more of.
Lemon Posset is the perfect palate cleanser, personally I like my dessert to linger in my mouth long after I’ve demolished it. Thompson’s take on the posset was impressive to say the least, beautiful presentation, almost too pretty to tuck into, but I was working so those shards of white chocolate crisp needed cracking, not to mention the drool worthy chewy, Italian meringue.
Being the competitive soul I am I simply had to see if “The Artist” could win out on this one, alas, although a brave attempt the Strawberry and Basil Salad could never outdo the sublime posset opponent.
We retired with the remainder of our Oropasso for one of the best nights sleep before enjoying a bountiful breakfast the next day.
Mount Juliet is very much a tale of two cities, fine dining demureness in the Manor to casual, fun and relaxed in Hunters Lodge. I genuinely feel like I was staying in a completely different place than my last visit. Here you now have the best of both worlds you can enjoy the relaxed vibe of Hunter’s Yard and still savour the spectacular setting that embodies everything that Mount Juliet Estate is – pure escapism.
Overnight with B&B plus Dinner in The Hound starts from €365 per room.
Mount Juliet Estate
T: +353 56 777 3000