It has been a mission of mine over the past year to seek out the best places in Ireland to have afternoon tea. With this in mind, I recently decided to take a short break at Castlemartyr Resort and was delighted to discover that afternoon tea is available there. Needless to say, I immediately booked myself a table and was looking forward to trying it out during my visit.
The 5 star hotel and resort is set in beautiful grounds just outside the bustling village with which it shares its name. Located within driving distance of Cork City and many of the county’s sights and attractions, Castlemartyr is the perfect place to stay in if you want some relaxing time-out in a luxurious and sophisticated setting.
The hotel consists of the original 18th century manor house and a modern wing which contains the bedrooms. It has been thoughtfully restored so that the older buildings blend seamlessly with the newer architecture and is tastefully decorated throughout. Adjacent to the hotel are the ruins of the ancient castle dating from 1210 which add to the resort’s overall feeling of historical grandeur.
Named after the wife of one of Castlemartyr’s previous owners, Lady Fitzgerald’s Afternoon Tea is served in the Bell Tower Restaurant which has all the understated elegance of the finest period dining rooms. It is immediately apparent that a great deal of thought has gone into all aspects of the afternoon tea. Everything, from the design of the menu to the choice of teas, cocktails and food offered and the table settings, has been carefully considered to ensure that guests have the best experience possible. Top wedding/event planner Peter Kelly, AKA ‘Franc’ was enlisted by management to advise on the re-launch of the afternoon tea in 2014 and he has helped create something that is truly memorable.
To kick off, I decided to order a Pimm’s Classic Cocktail which I happily sipped on whilst I decided which tea to choose. Made in a highball glass with Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, lemonade, mint, orange and garnished with fresh cucumber, this is a wonderfully aromatic and refreshing drink. Although usually associated with summer, it was a lovely curtain-opener for my afternoon tea.
A good selection of loose leaf teas is available. Supplied by Ronnefeldt, the choice includes Irish Afternoon Tea, Darjeeling Summertime, Superior Gyokuro Green Tea, Smoked China and the intriguingly entitled Light & Late. Separately, Barry’s Classic Blend loose leaf tea which hails from Cork is also available but in the end I plumped for a pot of Castlemartyr Assam which has been specially blended for Castlemartyr. With its deep amber colour and strong complex flavours this is a tea that is full of character and it stood up well to both the sweet and savoury elements of the afternoon tea.
To start with, a Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberries & Honeycomb was served. Presented in a small glass cup, this was an absolutely beautiful dish to look at. Panna cottas can be tricky to get right, but this one was perfect and had a fabulous silky texture. Topped with a thin layer of strawberry consommé, diced strawberries and garnished with basil cress and honeycomb, this was a dish that, despite its delicacy, packed a real flavour punch.
I love the moment during afternoon tea when the cake stand arrives laden with bite-sized sandwiches, scones and sweet pastries and was delighted with the range of goodies presented to me. Too often sandwiches are an afterthought with more effort put into the presentation and flavour profiles of the pastries. The sandwiches here were innovative interpretations of traditional offerings. Chicken, Rocket & Wholegrain Mustard on Soft Wholegrain Bread was very enjoyable and generously filled with small chunks of moist chicken. I also loved the classic Cucumber & Cream Cheese Sandwich served on white bread but my favourite was the Baked Brioche Roll with Egg Mayonnaise & Sun-Dried Tomato. The well-made brioche roll was rich but still managed to feel light to eat. It was perfect with its creamy egg mayonnaise filling. The final sandwich – Poached Salmon with Herb-Infused Mayonnaise, Boiled Quail’s Egg & Trout Caviar on a Squid Ink Bread was visually spectacular and although the ingredients used might not be to all tastes, I loved it. The squid ink bread with its subtle taste of the sea really enhanced the flavour of the poached salmon to create a sandwich that was unusual yet somehow very Irish.
Next up was the Baker’s Tier which included Homemade Scone with Clotted Cream and Homemade Strawberry Prosecco Jam. The scones had been made with the required light touch and were lovely to eat liberally spread with clotted cream and the intensely flavoured strawberry jam. I loved the fact that they were delivered slightly warm to the table. This is the best way to eat scones and was a nice touch. A flavoursome Banana Bread Finger was simple but well executed as was the Lemon & Poppyseed Finger. Both of these were made with a light sponge cake base and tasted wonderful nibbled on between sips of tea.
The final tier of the cake-stand, a selection of treats prepared by the pastry chef, was based around the theme of raspberries and included a Raspberry Macaron, a White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Purée & Chocolate Waffle Cone and a Chocolate Ganache Tart topped with Raspberry Mousse and a solitary fresh raspberry. It is impossible to pick which was my favourite as they were all exquisite and really demonstrated how versatile raspberries can be. Also included on the plate was the most delightful Crème Brûlée Swiss Roll which so successfully captured the essence of that classic dessert. I loved the caramelized outside layer and could have eaten slice after slice of it.
The afternoon tea in Castlemartyr is enchanting and you really feel like you are being pampered from within. At €29 per person (my Pimm’s Cocktail was an additional €11), I think that it is well-priced for what you get and it is definitely one of the best afternoon teas that I have had. I really felt like I was royalty for a couple of hours and loved everything about it. A Children’s Afternoon Tea is also available at €15 and includes sandwiches, a personalised chocolate chip cookie, sweet treats and Hot Chocolate or a Milk Shake.
T: 021 421 9000
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.