Thursday 23 November 2017

Tabletalk: Lightness of touch

Chef Seamus Connors has returned to his native Mayo, and he left Lucinda O'Sullivan mightily impressed, both with his culinary skills and his exquisite menu at La Fougere

Lucinda O’Sullivan

Lucinda O’Sullivan

It's Mother's Day today, so let's hope Irish mothers are being indulged left, right and centre. It's still not too late to think of a nice plush weekend away for the mammy!

I was lucky enough to have a super break recently on a Wine Producers' Weekend at Adrian and Geraldine Noonan's Knockranny House Hotel & Spa in Westport, Co Mayo. The theme clearly proved popular, as there was a great turnout. At €179pps for two nights' bed and breakfast, wine tastings, and a gourmet tasting menu on one evening, it offered great value. Knockranny is a luxurious spot with excellent service, beautiful antique furnishings, spacious bedrooms and suites, a lovely spa, and stunning views of Croagh Patrick.

Head chef Seamus Commons has been making quite a name for himself on the foodie scene, winning Best Chef in Connaught 2009 with Food & Wine magazine. His culinary CV includes a three-year stint as head chef at l'Ecrivain in the period when Derry Clarke was awarded a Michelin star. A Mayo man, Seamus returned to his native county via the Mulranny Park Hotel, before he came to Knockranny.

On the first night, we dined from the regular a la carte menu in La Fougere, which proved to be beautifully executed food with a meticulous attention to detail. From the starters (€17-€20), I had pan-fried Killary scallops (€19), which were asymmetrically cut, interspersed with crispy crab wraps, and served in a line on a ribbon of red pepper jus, with a quenelle of celeriac remoulade and lemongrass jus. Brendan had wild Irish partridge (€17). The breast was roasted, while the leg came stuffed with smoked bacon and hazelnuts, and the dish was served with an artichoke millefeuille and a sage-and-shallot bread sauce. From the mains, (€30-€32), I had a beautifully seared wild turbot (€32), topped with a cigarillo of confit duck, which was set on truffled celeriac with pickled enoki and a sauce Bourguignon. Brendan had an equally stunning loin of wild Ballinrobe venison and slow-cooked shoulder (€31), which was served with caramelised pear, beetroot puree, and chocolate truffle. There is also a very appealing table d'hote menu (€54).

The wines showcased the next day were from Slovenia. The event was followed by a fabulous eight-course tasting menu with matching wines, expertly presented by sommelier Nicolas Faujour. We started with foie gras tart with warm banana jelly and gingerbread crumble; followed by house-smoked organic sea trout, crab mayonnaise, cauliflower and lime-leaf puree. A seared scallop was next, on a squash ravioli with hazelnut dressing, with crispy sage and a langoustine reduction.

Beetroot sorbet followed with a horseradish creme fraiche. Then there was a ballottine and cassoulet of quail with a Scotch egg and a smoked bacon veloute; followed by loin of venison with a chocolate sausage roll, walnut gnocchi and parsnip mousseline.

A pre-dessert of chilli and chocolate jelly, blood orange and rosebud sorbet with warm cardamom foam was followed by an apple parfait with apple cannelloni, crumble and mousse; petit fours and coffee. It sounds like an awful lot of food, but it was so light and controlled that we didn't feel overcome by it all.

Each course was matched with a suitable wine, and I was particularly impressed by a Pinot Gris 2008 from a new winery, Verus, which is available through wine importers Cabot & Co, Westport, tel: (098) 37000.

Knockranny's next foodie event is a Seafood & Shellfish Weekend on May 14 and 15, from €219pps, with a cookery demonstration, a seafood and wine tasting, and a gala tasting menu.

Seamus Commons's food demonstrated an exquisite dexterity and lightness of touch. This is a man, and a place, that will make both Knockranny and Westport a top dining destination. L

La Fougere,

Knockranny House Hotel & Spa,


Co Mayo.

Tel: (098) 28600

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