Did you know that the mythical land of Tír na Nóg was said to have been based on the awe-inspiring Lakes of Killarney? Lough Leane, translated as the lake of youth, draws thousands of visitors to this jewel in the Kingdom’s crown each year and has been at the heart of Celtic legend ever since Niamh rode across the banks on a white horse.
It is little wonder then that Killarney is home to the most hotel beds in any town outside of Dublin, and the people of this bustling and vibrant hub grow up amongst tourists, so welcoming visitors is almost in their blood. I should know, as a Killarney native myself, that hospitality is more than an industry in this most picturesque of destinations, it is a way of life.
So what do you get when you mix mythical charm with charming people dedicated to offering the warmest of welcomes? The Brehon, I learned on a recent visit. Brehon law, dating back to the 7th Century, dictates that “whoever comes to your door you must feed him and care for him with no questions asked.” During a recent visit I would discover that this principle is the ethos at the heart of the majestic property, which sits just a stone’s throw away from Killarney National Park on the Muckross Road.
Imposing, palatial and quite simply enormous, The Brehon looks out over the purple-hued McGillycuddy Reeks, but the second you step inside the slick triple height lobby your eyes are fixed firmly on the sumptuous decor – modern open fireplaces, exposed natural brick and enough marble to make Caesar blush.
After a warm welcome and efficient check-in, panoramic wall-hangings allowed me to feel immersed in the beauty of Killarney even when walking down the hall, and arriving at the double doors of my fourth floor suite, I already knew I was in for a treat. A spacious living area couched in beige and dark wood greeted me along with a selection of baked goodies, including my favourite, choux buns.
More like a one bedroom apartment than a suite, more double doors lead to a palatial bedroom, with the kind of roomy king size bed you just want to jump on, chic and inviting with an over-sized tan leather headboard. Not one but two flat screen TVs, a coffee machine, generous corner bath and my outfit of choice, a fluffy robe and slippers means the suite life at The Brehon is rather appealing indeed.
It was tough to imagine wanting to leave my penthouse, temptation kicks in however once you realise that The Brehon is home to an award-winning Angsana Spa. A range of Eastern inspired treatments are delivered by expert Thai-trained therapists, but even if (like me) you don’t have time to indulge in a ritual, you can still unwind at the Club Angsana thermal suite, which is complimentary for guests and a haven of tranquility.
Arriving in the evening time, my mind was firmly fixed on dinner in two AA Rosette awarded restaurant Danú, with chef Chad Byrne at the helm. Modern neutrals and chic low hanging lighting features make Danú an inviting, dimly lit space and seated by the window, we settled in for dinner overlooking the mountains as the sun began to set.
In lieu of a bread basket, Crudités of carrot, celery and cucumber sticks in addition to crisp sumac-dusted flatbreads, and richly coriander scented hummus arrived, like a starter in itself, setting the tone for a delicious evening.
As we nibbled on these tasty treats, we were faced with a very difficult choice – Tasting Menu or an extensive á la carte and we genuinely struggled to choose. The latter was packed with tempting choices including a Middle Eastern inspired Cannon of Kerry Lamb with Aubergine, Date, Hazelnut and Mint and Spiced Salmon with Yuzu Yoghurt, both demonstrating Byrne’s fondness for fusing Irish ingredients with international influences.
As staff at The Brehon are keen to ensure your every desire is met, they were quite happy to let me opt for the five course Tasting Menu (€49) while my dining companion, Mother dearest, faced the task of choosing from the á la carte.
My first dish of Cashel Blue Mousse was pretty as a picture and built around one of my favourite Irish cheeses, whipped into a rich and piquant quennelle. Al dente Ballymakenny broccoli, carpaccio slices of rainbow beets and tooth sticking candied walnut made this a plate which demonstrated a lightness of touch with no lightness of flavour.
Across the table, two plump Jack McCarthy Black Pudding Bon Bons went down a treat, offset by the sweetness of a silky mango puree and sharp pickled red onion, with a crisp crumb giving way to a smooth, intensely savoury filling of one of Cork’s finest puddings.
For my next course, non-descript Crab and Dashi, included crispy nori seaweed chips, pops of umami from tiny cubes of dashi jelly and a generous serving Kerry’s finest Spillane’s crab. This dish sang of the Wild Atlantic Way coastline atop lemon créme fraiche and was a delight for a seafood lover like myself.
Moving on to Turbot and Scallop, an unassuming dish arrived before me but quickly revealed itself to be more vibrant on the palate than on the plate. Buttered spring onion and perfectly cooked sweet scallops, played with a mushroom-stock based lemon cream, each serving to elevate succulent meatiness of both the turbot and the earthiness of chanterelle mushrooms. A winning dish which I reluctantly shared.
From the Á La Carte came a main course which can only be described as autumn on a plate with perfectly pink Venison Loin atop velvety butternut purée and the gems of the September hedgerow, freshly picked tart blackberries. Let’s just say I used my generosity in sharing my stunning turbot course as a bargaining chip to secure more than just a taste of this gamey delight – it is hard to lament the end of summer with seasonal ingredients like these.
We rounded out the impressive selection of savoury courses with Pork Cheeks, a popular dish in southern Spain known as Caradillas, with meltingly soft cheeks, sweet tomato based braising liquor and a scattering of toasted hazelnuts beside a wedge of braised and charred cabbage. Smokey, tender and inviting, this certainly was a far cry from your mother’s bacon and cabbage, yet another showcase of Chad’s ability to marry flavours and global influences seamlessly.
Although nearing capacity food-wise, desserts like Orange Parfait with gin-marinated blackberries couldn’t be ignored. Mom said she could have a bowl of just the boozy blackberries, which worked well with a vibrant Solero-like bombe with various tempting layers.
A simple sounding Chocolate Mousse Cake was as delicious as it looked, shining with a mirror glaze and accompanied by kumquats with all the punchiness and citrus oil scent of an orange rind, finished with whipped mascarpone. A testament to Chad’s team of young pastry chefs, this final course was entirely decimated and enjoyed to the very last bite – a chocolate lover’s delight.
After course after course of inventive dishes, built around fantastic local produce and impressively executed, it is safe to say a feast fit for the goddess after which it is named awaits diners at Danú. Needless to say, after a stellar night’s sleep I awoke eager to head downstairs with high hopes for breakfast, and I wasn’t disappointed.
An ample Continental selection, including a gluten-free section was followed by an extensive fresh fruit offering, something I always like to kick off my morning meal with. Saintly intentions went out the window however as soon as I spotted a genius pancake machine, turning out fluffy American style hot cakes in less than a minute. Essentially an excuse to have breakfast dessert, I couldn’t resist, and now want one installed in my home immediately.
That said, my Eggs Benedict, from a selection of included dishes from the kitchen offered in addition to the buffet, was an example of expert cooking a machine couldn’t compete with. I have so often been let down by this seemingly simple dish that receiving perfectly seasoned, oozy poached eggs draped in silky Hollandaise atop Parma ham was beyond satisfying.
Hitting the road after more food than I thought I could fit into 14 hours, exceedingly well rested and well fed, I was delighted to have sampled the flawless hospitality this haven in my own neck of the woods offers and to find a dining destination I will most certainly be returning to when next I’m home – no questions asked.
Chef Chad describes himself as ‘a bit of a rough diamond’, but The Brehon is an absolute gem and a shining example of all that is wonderful about The Kingdom.
T: +353 64 663 0700
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.