“It would be a lovely little country if we could only roof it”, I thought to myself on the drive to Straffan, Co. Kildare, with the dregs of Hurricane Gert pelting at the windows on a recent gloomy Sunday.
Just forty minutes after leaving Dublin, the winding driveway of The K Club rolls out before me, and there’s no fear of an errant golf ball hitting the car, with the miserable weather deterring even the most ardent golfers from their Sunday ritual on the prestigious Ryder Cup course. That said, as soon as you clap eyes on the palatial white fascade of the K Club, your day instantly becomes a little brighter.
A coat-tailed valet anticipated my distress at the rain, coming to my aid with an umbrella to usher me in the door to the magnificent chandelier lit lobby, to check in to one of Ireland’s most luxurious hideaways for the night. From the second you cross the marble threshold, The K club exudes a scent of sumptuousness, quite unlike any other property.
After a speedy check in and thoroughly warm welcome, I wander wide-eyed down the corridor dotted with historical artwork, tapestries and trinkets, feeling as if I could spend the entire day exploring this veritable museum. Although opened in 1991 as Ireland’s first 5 AA Red Star rated property, The K Club’s original form, Straffan House, dates back to the 1800’s under the patronage of Hugh Barton, who modelled his home on the French Chateau Louveciennes.
Given the scale the extended K Club now enjoys, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say it is Ireland’s answer to Versailles, particularly as 2015 saw an extension of 70 bedrooms, adding to the initial 36 and to the grandeur and sheer magnificence of the property.
My Liffey Deluxe Room in the newly renovated west wing doesn’t disappoint, with powder blue panelling, heritage wall paper and elegant dark wood furnishings. A cocoon-like king size bed allows you to sink in like a beanbag and is just as difficult to get out of. Along with a flourish of duck feather pillows, I can honestly say this was the most comfortable bed I have ever had the pleasure of enveloping myself in.
Staring out over the wandering Liffey, which is flanked by almost ethereal woodlands, I just about managed to resurrect myself to slink into the six foot bath, with a custom K Club rubber duck and lavender bath salts as standard – bliss. Bathrooms in the K Club are in-keeping with the palatial nature of their surroundings, with elegantly embossed towels, but of course.
A Nespresso machine, plush robes and slippers which feel like slipping your weary feet into clouds round out the feeling that rooms at The K Club are in a class of their own, the most luxurious haven on this rainiest of Sundays.
The K Club is a drop your keys with the valet kind of place, and although there are numerous tempting dining options worth exploring in Kildare, wandering no further than downstairs to the Byerly Turk Restaurant was on the cards for my leisurely Sunday. I was momentarily tempted by K Thai, an authentic Asian eatery offering a lighter option – but lord knows a night at The K Club is no time for temperance or discipline.
Overlooking a maze of manicured gardens, panelled French windows and lush Moulin Rouge-like burgundy velvet, this is old school fine dining worth donning your Louboutins for. Chef Kevin McGrattan has taken the reigns from Finbarr Higgins and I am keen to see how his cuisine shapes up to its magnificent surroundings.
An extensive menu reads well, with a sense of restraint but awareness of the grandeur of the venue, with elegant classics like pan-seared foie gras, Atlantic prawn tails and whole black sole Meuniere, which I spot being expertly filleted at a nearby table and very nearly succumb to.
A generous amuse of Crab Risotto, Lobster Bisque and Parmesan Crisp at first appeared a heavy choice, but happily, it was silky and intense enough to make it worth the three spoonfuls of indulgence. The essence of lobster worked particularly well with my treat from the Coravin – a glass of Domaine Mosnier Chablis (€14).
While foie gras is my Achilles Heel, Atlantic Mackerel with an element of Dingle Gin tickled my curiosity and later, my taste buds. As it isn’t a luxury fish, I wanted to see what could elevate it to earn a place on the menu here, competing with traditionally extravagant dishes.
So often mackerel’s innate richness is masked with overly aggressive smoking, and this locally caught fillet was au naturel, simply seared and allowed to sing with a surprisingly flavourful cucumber consommé and toasted almonds – the watermelon could perhaps have bathed in gin for a tad longer, but a vibrant lime spiked avocado puree provided necessary acidity. This was a light starter with bright and enticing flavours which popped playfully on the palate.
Wicklow lamb offered in the too-good-resist trio of Loin, Lap and Sweet Breads was a no-brainer, as sweet breads are the most underrated little gems, when executed well, and I am always delighted to see them on menus. Thankfully, they lived up to all my hopes in this instance, tender and subtly sweet alongside blushing slices of succulent pink loin (I suspect sous-vide treatment) and a rich, almost gamey rolled lap.
A silky goats cheese creme added to the richness of this composed dish, with a pop of sweetness from a blueberry reduction and carpaccio of beetroot cutting across beautifully. This trifecta of lamb was both well conceived and thoroughly enjoyable, there were no grounds to declare a Mulligan here but I would gladly have repeated this indulgence!
To round out the meal, not so traditional Rhubarb and Custard – a bar of creamy pink parfait and rosey rhubarb matchsticks perfectly poached with not a stewed stalk in sight and Birds custard powder-esque meringues adding delicious crunch.
This playful dish was a childhood favourite all grown up, especially when served alongside a petite shot of Guinness, adding an Irish twist to an Anglo classic and again displaying chef’s flair for clever yet composed combinations. A sweet end to a satisfying round of gastronomy indeed.
Having retreated to my sanctuary for what was one of the best night’s sleep I have enjoyed in many moons in my duck feather cocoon, the blow of drawing the curtains to reveal yet more rain was certainly softened by views of the meandering Liffey, lush green grounds, and of course, the promise of yet more deliciousness downstairs.
I am a fan of an abundant breakfast spread, and from the get-go the options laid out in the grand dining room screamed provenance and temptation. From McConnell’s smoked salmon and Castle Farm cheddar to Kavanagh’s free range eggs, Heffernans of Newbridge rashers and yoghurt from neighbouring Meath, the opening meal of the day is a celebration of Ireland’s wonderful artisan producers – as expected from the people who brought us The K Club Cookbook.
Too often, high-end hotels drop the ball on the breakfast front, erring in that final putt and leaving a parting taste of disappointment. Settling on eggs two ways – en cocotte and scrambled, alongside the aforementioned local smoked salmon, breakfast was as satisfying an affair as the dinner that came before it, cementing the fact that the K Club is a destination for food-lovers, a cut above many of its peers.
With a full belly and a heavy heart, leaving time draws near, but not before a stroll (with umbrella in tow) in the gardens to admire the perfectly preened rose displays and vast expanse of green rolling hills – I’m no golfer, but the setting the K Club enjoys is far beyond par for the course, whatever the weather. It truly is difficult to believe that Dublin is less than an hour away when captivated by such breath-taking countryside.
The K Club is grade A luxury in every sense of the word, and is undoubtedly a benchmark for what it means to be a true five star property. From the impeccable service to an impressive culinary offering and unashamedly opulent sanctuary-like guestrooms, it is an institution of utter indulgence. With no weak links, a stay at The K Club is simply a hole in one.
A Gourmet Escape package at the K Club starts from €390 for two persons sharing.
The K Club
T: +353 1 6017 200
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.