Hotel Review: Gentle refurb gives Ardmore’s Cliff House the edge
Everything that made the Ardmore getaway great is still there but just a little bit better
Since opening in 2008, the Cliff House Hotel has worked on the premise of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
And in fairness, there was nothing to fix. With those dreamy sea views, a top-notch spa and a restaurant that scooped a Michelin star in its first two years, this little tardis on the Ardmore cliffs ticked every box.
But to stay the best, you’ve got to keep things moving. And over the last few years, there’s been a huge shift in not just the hotel, but the Cliff brand itself. There was the arrival of Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons, the creation of The Well at Cliff spa products and the sad closure of Dublin’s Cliff Townhouse.
At the original Ardmore hotel, we’ve seen the launch of a (super slick) beach house and cottage, the summer food truck Pantry, and the beachside bar Urchin, where you can avail of activities like SUP and sea kayaking with Ardmore Adventures. There’s also a very exciting new face in the kitchen (more on that later…).
But with all that’s new, has the Cliff House kept its sense of intoxicating charm? I checked in to find out…
The rating: 9/10
Arrival & location
When it comes to a grand arrival, I don’t think any Irish hotel can beat the Cliff House.
From the moment you step into the lobby, the glorious sweep of Ardmore Bay is staring back at you from the giant, multi-floor windows. In fact, it’s hard to pay attention at check-in, when all you want to do is gaze out at the sea.
And that’s a theme that continues wherever you are, whether you’re striding along the cliff path with the briny smack of the ocean in the air, or cuddled up in your room in a fluffy robe. You couldn’t ask for any better. 9/10
Service & style
While the whole place has an undeniable sense of style, the spa is a winner, and home to quite possibly the best hotel pool in the country, the infinity edges of the water drifting seamlessly into the sea beyond. And while the jacuzzi is great, the outdoor baths are even better, where you can soak in seaweed, peat or aromatherapy oils (€50pp).
I had the Cliff Custom Swedish Massage (€95), a dreamy treatment using their own botanical oils. If you’re given the choice, opt for a sea-facing treatment room — a massage in a light-filled space is surprisingly relaxing. 9/10
There seems to be a recurring trend when it comes to hotel room décor (is it just me who’s sick of the relentless greys?). But the rooms in the Cliff House have a cottage-core vibe without being too twee.
Think woollen throws on the bed, and wingtip armchairs covered in Donegal tweed, perched right by the giant windows. That’s the other big selling point here — all of the rooms point to the sea, and while the larger suites benefit from a giant balcony, I love the fact that the sea views are available for all.
A recent refresh has given the rooms a much-needed zhuzh, but my bathroom was the real winner, with a giant oversized tub and double rainforest showers perched right by the (semi-frosted) window, so you can watch the sea as you wash your hair. Personally, I’d like to see products from their own range supplied, rather than miniature bottles from a French brand.
I loved the giant coffee machine that ground the beans on demand, though I couldn’t get it working every time. However, my success rate with hotel-room coffee machines is… less than stellar. 8/10
Food & drink
With a Michelin star under its belt, the House Restaurant was always the main attraction. But the appointment of the new executive chef, Ian Doyle (who worked in the multi Michelin-starred Noma and Oaxen Krog), has infinitely raised the bar. He’s created a menu of delicately beautiful dishes that sing with unusual, local ingredients (he’s a keen forager too).
At this stage, there’s nothing groundbreaking about using local, seasonal produce. But what is innovative is Doyle’s ingenuity when it comes to combining textures and surprising flavours — think green strawberries with smoked cod roe, and a smoked spruce fudge that will forever haunt my dreams.
This is exactly the refresh that this restaurant needed, and the eight-course tasting menu (€130) is worth every single cent.
What’s particularly nifty is their new beverage pairing (€85), curated by head sommelier Alexandra Raitaneva, which pairs each course with a combination of wines, local cider and cocktails rather than wines alone. The highlight? An opening cocktail of Bertha’s Revenge milk gin, tomato water and seaweed bitters that really made the clam and oyster canapés sing.
These standards are maintained at breakfast, with platters of warm pastries, just-squeezed orange juice, and an excellent à la carte menu — my waffle with crispy bacon and Youghal honey was perfection. 9.5/10
Most people drift toward the main Bar Restaurant for a drink, but the new House Lounge (formerly the private dining space) is a dream, with plush, seafoam green seating and a cosy fire.
Visit Ardmore Pottery and Gallery in the village, where you can pick up bits from their unique range of pottery, alongside cashmere beanies and herringbone throws.
The bottom line
If you weren’t looking too closely, you wouldn’t notice many changes at the Cliff House. But the best reinventions are the most subtle. Everything that made the hotel great is still there, but just that little bit better.
The real winner here is the new restaurant — the food that’s coming out of the kitchen really is on a whole other level. If you’re looking for a dinner that will truly blow you away, this is the place to be.
B&B starts at €289 for two. Nicola was a guest of the hotel. cliffhousehotel.ie