One for all at Sash in Limerick
Sash, One Pery Square, Limerick (061) 402 402
For anyone familiar with Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, a memoir of growing up in Limerick, it may come as a surprise to hear that the city's loveliest hotel is located just a stone's throw from the lanes where the scenes of the writer's harrowing childhood were played out.
Limerick's Georgian Quarter is one of the best preserved examples of the Georgian 18th- and 19th-century architectural style in Ireland, its fine houses now principally in office use. The area is populated by lawyers and accountants in the main, with the odd massage parlour thrown in to the mix to keep things real. The Frank McCourt Museum is a short walk from Pery Square, and will give visitors an insight into how much things have changed since the days of his youth. It's not a time to which anyone in the city would wish to return.
These days, Limerick is on the up. After its year as City of Culture in 2014, a bid is currently underway to have the city designated the European Capital of Culture 2020. No.1 Pery Square is a symbol of all that's changed in the city, a smart contemporary hotel occupying a few adjoining Georgian houses. The restoration of the buildings that comprise the hotel has enhanced their period features and given them a contemporary twist. It's stylish and comfortable, and the staff have the genuine charm that comes from working with a local business owned by a local family rather than an international operator.
There's an award-winning spa, where guests can relax and take treatments using the Irish range of Voya seaweed-based products, and a pretty garden for tea and sunshine. When the weather doesn't oblige, tea is served in the elegant drawing room, and there's a cosy bar where the offer of a No.1 Hendrick's gin cocktail, infused with herbs from the garden, is one that should not be passed up. All in all, the hotel is an excellent addition to Limerick, and a reason in itself for visiting the city.
Sash is No.1 Pery Square's restaurant, located on the first floor and named for the sash windows that overlook the Georgian streetscape outside. As well as being a hotel restaurant, it's somewhere that has become established as a destination, popular with Limerick locals and used for both business and leisure, as well as hosting small weddings. On the night that we ate there, the room had a pleasant buzz, and I'd reckon that about half the two dozen or so guests were hotel residents, and the others locals on a night out.
There's an á la carte menu and a Summer Market Menu (2 courses for €25, and 3 for €29), with an amount of overlap between the two. I was eating with my youngest daughter, who has definite ideas about what she wants to eat, and isn't always willing to oblige me in terms of ordering according to my direction, which I suppose makes her an ideal and representative reviewing companion. She chose a starter of Rocamadour Goats' Cheese with Castleconnell Honey & Sourdough, presented as small crottin of warm, melting cheese on a tranche of good toast. The plate was as pretty as a picture, decorated with edible flowers from the garden and little blobs of delicious honey. Rocamadour, an impossibly scenic French village in the Lot in south-western France, perched on the side of a gorge overlooking a tributary of the Dordogne river, is deservedly famous for its goats' cheese and Fred Duarte, the chef here, comes from nearby. (As a former rugby player, it's perhaps appropriate that he has made his Irish home in the citadel of Munster rugby.) Anyway, the full-flavoured, aged cheese made for a simple yet successful first course.
My Fisherman's Soup was a traditional saffron-infused French seafood bisque, very satisfying, served in the French style with croutons, aioli and grated cheese. I would have preferred a more intense rouille, and I can't be sure that the cheese was Gruyère, which is the classic accompaniment, but there was no denying that the soup was based on proper seafood stock and, again, was full of flavour.
There was an inevitability that Ellie would choose a steak, and she was more than happy with her rib-eye, a tasty piece of meat cooked medium-rare according to her request. The accompanying fries were good and crisp, the salad of garden leaves fresh and interesting, but the bearnaise could have been more forthcoming in terms of tarragon. My main course of Fresh Mussels with Ham Hock, served in a broth of Longueville House cider, a great combination of ingredients, was a well-balanced dish but rather spoilt by the mouthful of silt that I got at the end when scooping up the last of the juices.
We finished up with an apple tarte tatin that tasted like the real deal but fell short in terms of the level of caramelisation that can elevate this ostensibly simple dessert to another level. With an extra side salad, a soft drink and a pleasing bottle of German pinot noir from Franz Becker Pfalz, our bill totalled €106.40.
Any guest at No.1 Pery Square will be pleased by the offering at Sash, which is far better than that of most hotels in the country. The restaurant name-checks its suppliers, which is something that I always like to see on a menu, and its staff are utterly pleasant. I learned afterwards that Fred Duarte was not in the kitchen on the night of our visit, and I'm assuming that the attention to detail that I felt was lacking on this occasion was a blip.
7/10 value for money
On a budget
Soup of the Evening, followed by Leek & Lemon Risotto costs €21 for a solo diner.
On a blowout
A piggy extravaganza of No. 1 Crubeen Terrine, followed by No. 1 Pigtown Choucroute with a bottle of Cremant Rose would set you back €88 for two.
The high point
One Pery Square is the gem of Limerick's Georgian Quarter, a smart and comfortable boutique hotel with a restaurant that's a cut above standard hotel food.
The low point
The supplement information on the Set Market Menu was tricky to see in the low light, so we didn't spot the supplements for two items.
Whispers from the gastronomicon
Within a five-minute walk of No. 1 Pery Square is Canteen, on Mallow St, Limerick's and Paul Williams' answer to The Fumbally in Dublin, albeit on a smaller scale. We went for breakfast, and had an impeccable version of a Full Irish, as well as a less traditional Green Eggs & Ham, with avocado, bacon and perfectly poached eggs on excellent sourdough. Watermelon juices, Badger & Dodo coffee, and a complimentary mini-lemon drizzle cake by way of apology for a delay in getting our food out, made us love it even more. Next time, we'll go back for lunch. I hear that the smart money is on the fish tacos.