'Compact and compelling' - A midweek break in Wexford goes down a storm
Not even Storm Diana can thwart a midweek break in magical Wexford for Anna Coogan...
We weren't the only ones thinking about a good catch-up, because while we are checking in to Clayton Whites Hotel, we stand looking at the groups of women seated at tables in the lobby/cafe and who are bowed over in conversation. Someone's ears are burning.
The tables are weighed down with cups and nibbles, and it looks like some people are on their second or third tea or coffee. There's a lot of the world being put to rights mid-week in Wexford, and never mind the elusive sun lounger by the pool, we're going to have to be exceedingly quick off the mark to get a table in here. And it's horrible hurrying a buffet breakfast.
There's also a very large and attractive bar area where seats are available, not to mention a luxurious spa where we could hang out, but on this first impression, all the action seems to be in the lobby, so we reckon we should be there too.
We are booked in to an executive suite in this four-star hotel, and it turns out to have a fab view over Wexford town and harbour. The window frames the scene invitingly.
You might happily lie on the extremely comfortable bed and look at the picturesque housetops tumbling down to the water. Or you could do as we did and head to Green Acres, a restaurant slap bang in the centre of Wexford town, for lunch.
This restaurant has a great reputation among regulars at the Wexford Festival Opera, and it seems the upstairs art gallery has been the venue for some great parties held during the festival. The owner, James O'Connor, comes from a well-known Wexford legal family, and the building once housed his parents' law firm. The dining area is surrounded by shelves of the finest wines, giving this modern restaurant a very welcoming feel. And the food tastes as good as the restaurant looks; seafood thermidor bake with basil and garlic crumb, and a burger with herb Mossfield cheese. Let's not forget the shared chocolate cake which was scrumptious.
After lunch it's off to the Creative Hub in the Bullring Mall, the location of The Makers House which is considered to be the home of Wexford craft. There are specially designed units where craftspeople work, plus a very come-hither shop where they display their wares. I dare you to get out of it without something you could have done without but really shouldn't have to.
Following our tour, potter Mairead Stafford invites us to visit her workshop at Ballyelland Pottery, The Old Mill, Castlebridge, so we can make some art. It feels a little intimidating to be in a real potter's studio. Less Ghost and more 'what a big wheel you have'. When Mairead offers us paper and pencils so we can draw, we do have to marvel at her optimism. But it turns out to be an incredibly fun afternoon. She even throws in tea and cake as we design ourselves some pretty tiles. Mairead runs a Creating Beach Inspired Pottery Workshop which apparently is a big hit with groups visiting this part of the world.
Wexford, with its narrow winding streets, inviting shops and great restaurants is compact and compelling. This evening we eat dinner in La Cote Seafood Restaurant, Ferrybank South, a contemporary seafood restaurant owned and run by Michelin-trained chef Paul Hynes and his wife Edwina. Elegant and cosy, it's a pleasure to be in. The food is delectable; Comeragh Mountain lamb, with provencal sauce, and sea grass and lemon sole with gratin potatoes and fresh vegetables, and for dessert, a shared 70pc chocolate cremeux, with chocolate tuiles and malt ice cream.
The staff are so friendly too, and if there is one vibe to Wexford, it is a relaxed, no-worries, friendly one, like you might expect from the town lucky enough to be by the sea and surrounded by pretty countryside.
You can walk everywhere in Wexford too, and Clayton Whites Hotel is just a short walk from everywhere, which makes it an ideal base.
The following morning after a terrific buffet breakfast, we head to the National Opera House on Wexford Street for a short tour of what is our first custom-built, multi-purpose opera house and home to the world-famous Wexford Festival Opera which returns in October.
You don't see the opera house coming as its exterior is deceptively plain, but once inside its American walnut-lined auditorium is magnificent and has been described as calling "to mind the interior of a stringed instrument". It has hosted all sorts from the Royal Moscow Ballet to Tommy Tiernan.
Wexford has a spot of unsunny weather while we're there unfortunately - referred to on-and-off as 'bloody Storm Diana' - and sadly we're chased around the place by a steely grey sky and a wind with a very unfriendly attitude.
It means that regrettably a trip to the Irish National Heritage Park is cancelled when part of the park is closed due to the angry weather.
But as a consolation we lunch in The Yard restaurant on Lower Georges Street, which has a reputation for using its own seasonal vegetables, herbs, fruit, eggs and fresh cut flowers.
The portions are the most generous I've seen in quite a while, and we feast on two very tasty mains; chicken korma and monkfish in batter and skin-on fries. We didn't need them but thoroughly enjoyed the Portuguese custard tarts with smoked warm fudge sauce and autumn pear with white chocolate and pear sorbet.
Bloody Storm Diana doesn't win out in the end because we have our togs and enjoy a swim in the 20m swimming pool at Clayton Whites. There's a sauna and steam room poolside too.
Afterwards, we finally manage to nab seats in the cafe/lobby, which we now know is in fact the coffee dock - seats are hard to get as on both days there are wedding receptions in the hotel - and enjoy a bit of 'go away/get away out of that/she never/does she EVER listen to herself?/what do you think of the wedding dress?'
Once we've whipped up a good appetite we dine in the hotel's Terrace Restaurant which is bright and airy and overlooks the hotel's courtyard.
On our plates are a 10oz Hereford prime striploin steak with pepper cream sauce and mushroom, tomato and balsamic shallots skewers, plus a main course made up of two starters; duck spring roll topped with Asian salsa and salmon terrine served with citrus aioli and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Desserts are banoffee roulade served with toffee sauce and a selection of ice cream served with fresh cream and fruit coulis.
On the way back to Dublin we chat about how friendly Wexford is and how great the food is and how the town is ideal for a long overdue catch-up and how the next time we're there it's bound to be sunny.
For information on Wexford “where simple moments become priceless memories” visit www.visitwexford.ie.
Clayton Whites Hotel
Green Acres Restaurant
La Cote Restaurant
The Yard Restaurant
Ballyelland Pottery, The Old Mill, Castlebridge
This feature originally ran in The Sunday Independent.