The days of subsistence rations are a thing of the past, as Lucinda O'Sullivan discovered when she visited Monart. The surroundings were superb, the food was sublime, and she could have stayed forever
Before the joys of spas ever hit our shores, I took a trip to a top place in the UK. It was very enjoyable drifting from one pampering treatment to the next, but at dinner one guest looked more miserable than the other as we faced a thimble of orange juice, 3oz of chicken, and no alcohol. I lost 5lb and a ton of money, but we were so hungry it was impossible to sleep.
At Monart Destination Spa in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, this didn't happen. Not only was I pampered, but the restaurant was excellent -- and you don't have to be a resident to dine there. The service and attention to detail at all levels, overseen by the general manager, Mark Browne, was amazing, so it is perhaps no wonder that Monart has just been named runner-up in the Conde Nast Readers' Choice Best Spa in the World award. Forget all those exotic locations around the globe, at Enniscorthy you have the very best. It was packed when we were there, so clearly people appreciate what a superb place it is.
Monart House, which is a handsome Georgian building, was in the hands of the Cookman family, who built it in 1740, until it was acquired by Liam Griffin's Griffin Group Hotels in 2002. A wonderful job was done: on approaching the house, there is no sign of the secret world that lies beyond its Georgian doors. The old house, with its drawing room, library and conservatory, is where afternoon tea -- which we had on arrival (€39 for two) -- is served. A glass passageway leads to the 21st-century accommodation and spa sector -- it's all Swedish-style wood and glass, incorporating elegant passages lined with topiary or artworks; the building curves around a pond and glorious woodland gardens.
There are two dining options: the garden lounge for casual food and great cocktails all day, and the fine-dining restaurant. Dubliner Robbie White is head chef, and his food is superb. Starters (€8.50-€13.95) included salmon meze comprising salmon rillette, beetroot gravlax, smoked salmon timbale, rocket and shallot. Foie gras parfait is served with an apple and sultana compote, a port wine reduction and toasted brioche. I had a lovely, Spanish-style pairing of seared scallops (€13.95) with crisp chicken thighs, on a patty of diced, marinated peppers, sweetcorn and basil, topped with cress and frisee. Brendan chose quail (€11.75). The breast was roasted, the legs were braised, and it was served with Puy lentils, smoked bacon and chicory jam. Mains (€18.95-€35.95) included cep-crusted saddle of venison; and supreme of organic chicken from nearby Caim with potato risotto, sauteed wild mushrooms and a truffle-scented jus. Pan-seared monkfish tail (€29.95) was two good, moist chunks atop sweet potato, centred with a brace of prawns and drizzled around with a sublime prawn bisque, while Brendan's magnificent grilled fillet of Wexford Angus beef (€35.95) was accompanied by a rondelle of braised oxtail topped with a quail's egg and celeriac puree. Top-notch food.
We washed these down with a half bottle of Sancerre La Croix Canat 2007 (€24.95) and a half bottle of Tour du Pas St Georges 2005 Saint Emilion (€22.95).
Puds, too, were sublime. An orange and cardamom panna cotta (€8.95) was tweaked with a chocolate and pumpkin-seed tuile and confit orange; while a chocolate and hazelnut assiette (€9.95) consisted of chocolate mousse, warm hazelnut hot chocolate and hazelnut parfait. We lingered over an Irish and French farmhouse cheese selection (€12), indulging in a glass each of a glorious amber-hued Hungarian dessert wine, Tokaji Aszu Oremus 5 Puttonyos (€15 each), which was overflowing with floral aromas of tangerine, honey and quince.
Room and breakfast was €310, dinner with wine was €200.40 and our total bill, with the tea and optional service of €50, was €599.40. I could stay there forever!
Monart Destination Spa,
Tel: (053) 923-8999