Restaurant review: Paolo Tullio at The Brasserie, Co Kerry
I left you last week deep in the south-west tip of Kerry, in Ballinskelligs. It turned out to be some of the rainiest, cloudiest July days that anyone could remember, so when it was time to drive to Killarney, the original idea of going across the mountains was abandoned due to mist and we took the coast road through Cahirciveen.
Before leaving, there was time for a light breakfast in Waterville followed by an equally light lunch with the artist Susan Morley and Paul Turner in Lohar, a couple of miles outside Waterville.
Here too, there was a possibility of seeing The Skelligs across the bay, but, once again, low cloud and sea mist got in the way. Maybe one day I'll get to see The Skelligs set off against a blue sky.
As Marian Kenny and I got closer to Killarney the rain stopped and the sky got lighter, and by the time we turned into the entrance gates of The Europe Hotel we could almost make out shadows.
There's quite a long avenue leading up to the hotel through very beautifully maintained gardens. Then we saw the hotel, and, to be honest, I was a little taken aback -- it looked functionally plain, as though its architect had no aesthetic sense whatever.
We parked and went to the check-in desk and then we saw the view. What we'd seen driving in was the back of the hotel; the front of it has an enchanting view over the lower lake with a 180Â° panorama that is simply stunning.
Stand at the lakeside, then look back and you see the hotel as it was meant to be seen. There's the two-storey spa building that's built into the land as it falls towards the lake, and between the hotel and lake are more gardens, which became very prettily lit as dusk fell.
There were two restaurants to choose from: the Panorama Restaurant, which is the fine-dining restaurant, and The Brasserie, a less formal restaurant, which is where we chose to eat.
Like everything in the hotel, it has views across the lake, so we were able to watch the slow fall of night making its subtle changes to the view, until at last it faded completely. I was studying the lake, because the next day I was booked to go fishing with Malcolm O'Brien.
The first thing I noticed about the menu was the pricing. As a general rule, starters tend to be priced at roughly a third of main courses. So when main courses cost around €20, starters cost about €7.
The Brasserie menu is structured differently. Starters run from €10 to €14, and mains from €19 to €24, although most of them are around €20, so main courses offer very real value.
The wine list was long enough to make for interesting reading. A lot of good wines were listed, but the majority of them were in the over-€30 bracket, although there were wines listed by the glass starting at €6.
Unusually, there were quite a few half-bottles listed, which, these days, is probably a good thing. From these, I picked a Pouilly-Fuissé from Louis Latour, listed at €25.
We started with the gratinated goat's cheese bruschetta for Marian and the crab and guacamole tian for me, followed by rump of Kerry lamb for Marian and the seafood platter for me.
What we noticed almost at once in the dining room was the level of service; it was, in style, more continental than Irish, which was explained later when we discovered that the hotel has been owned by a German family since the 1960s. It's hard to pin down exactly what I mean by continental service, but a big part of it is extreme professionalism.
The starters were very good, well made and prettily presented -- in truth, better than I was expecting, given we were in a self-proclaimed brasserie.
And this same sense of surprise was back again when the main courses arrived. Given both were priced at €20 I wasn't expecting a great deal, but Marian's lamb dish, which came with puy lentils and buttered beans, was very good, and my seafood platter was excellent. It was, more than anything else, generous.
I had smoked salmon, garlic prawns, crab claws and grilled white fish, plus a smattering of mussels and a couple of scallops. An abundance of seafood and all properly cooked.
It would have been a shame to leave the table without trying the desserts, so we picked the strawberries with balsamic vinegar for Marian and the classic bread and butter pudding for me.
If you haven't tried strawberries with balsamic, you'll be surprised at the result. It's one of those counter-intuitive things that bizarrely works very well. They came with a scoop of custard and honey ice cream, which made a fine partnership.
I wolfed my way through the bread and butter pudding and really loved the cognac and raisin ice cream that came with it. An espresso for me and a tea for Marian ended this meal, big on flavours and big on service.
The bill came to just under €120.
Next morning, the sky was bright and, at the crack of 10.30am, I was up, ready for my outing on the lake. I met Malcolm by the boat- house and off we went, through choppy waves to calmer water in the lee of a couple of the small islands.
If we'd been fishing for perch it would have been a bumper day, since I hooked six, but it was the brown trout we wanted, and after a couple of hours I'd caught only one.
While I'd been on the lake, Marian had been in the spa, which she informed me was simply "amazing". We arranged to meet in The Spa Café, so I got a quick tour of the amenities before we had lunch. I had to agree, it was beautiful and it smelled very nice, too. But I was in a hurry, we had a fish to eat.
Head chef Alex was in The Spa Café, and he cooked up my trout as a starter for us. For the rest, there was a buffet laid out and we both chose the slow-roasted shoulder of lamb. Lunch in the spa is €27.50 for the three courses.
I really liked The Europe -- super service, good food and an amazing situation. I know I'll be back.
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10