Ballyvolane House, County Cork, Ireland, Part II

So where did we get to? Ah yes, amid the green rolling fields of County Cork, Ireland sits the very luxurious, uber comfortable Ballyvolane House. In Part I of my Ballyvolane House review, I shared my thoughts on the rooms, history and influences that make Ballyvolane, the ultimate Irish country retreat and now it’s time to reveal the one thing that really made me fall in love with this luxurious rural getaway spot.

As well as warm Irish hospitality, chic surroundings, and a rare blend of opulence and comfort in equal measure, Ballyvolane house absolutely nails it in terms of food and drink. It is the perfect getaway hotel for foodies to relax.

Breakfasts are hearty and made to order. You take a seat on the communal dining table (or they can arrange for you to dine privately if you’d prefer). Bertie brings you a teapot full of Irish breakfast tea or a hot cafetiere of coffee to enjoy whilst she takes your order. You can enjoy the buffet before selecting your hot a la carte breakfast – there’s no menu but whilst we were at Ballyvolane House, we sampled all types of eggs,  from fry-ups, variations made to order and of course perfectly made omelettes.

Each day I started with the cinnamon-scented stewed fruits, homemade granola, which was jam-packed with seeds and nuts, and enjoyed this on local yoghurt – light, juicy and just filled with flavour. This is one of the buffet options available, alongside freshly squeezed orange juice, for you to enjoy ahead of your hot breakfast. If you have space, follow this with a hot breakfast option.

The Doc swore by the Irish breakfast, and I loved the scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, served on the prettiest crockery.

After breakfast, whether you’re green-fingered or not, you’ll enjoy exploring  the beautiful gardens. Given the onus on farm-to-fork produce at Ballyvolane, the gardens are filled with an abundance of fruit, veg and herbs, as well as beautiful flowers, tennis courts, orchards and an area to watch donkeys grazing.

The lovely dogs, Dumpling and Stormy, will happily accompany you on a walk if you want them to, and there are walking trails you can follow. You’ll pass the pretty glamping area, where there are lodges and tents equipped with comfortable queen sized beds, the same crisp linens that we enjoyed in our room, as well as candles and hot water bottles. These are fantastic for a more affordable option as they are cosily made up and include full access to the house and Ballyvolane’s beautiful grounds, at a fraction of the price.

Best of all, on a walk onsite, you can visit Ballyvolane House’s aromatically-scented gin distillery, where my new favourite gin, Bertha’s Revenge, is made. Bertha’s Revenge is a seriously smooth aromatic gin which makes the most perfect G&T. Justin, Jenny and their team experimented with whey milk spirits rather than getting spirits from the continent. This experiment has worked so well that their gin is now stocked all over the world and we loved our pre-dinner aperitifs of delicious local gin and tonic, which felt even more special knowing that the gin was designed and distilled onsite, literally steps away from where we sat.

 

On our first morning at Ballyvolane, we toured the gin distillery, seeing where Bertha’s Revenge gin is created. With the very first step into the distillery you’re hit by the most gorgeous scent of the aromatics; it’s citrussy, with mild juniper and slight notes of pepper in the air. Nothing how I imagined a working distillery would be! It’s small and warm and with the radio on in the background, beautifully scented and weirdly relaxing.

Bertha's Revenge gin at Ballyvolane House distillery

Bertha’s Revenge gin consists of local whey alcohol, water from Ballyvolane’s onsite well and tonnes of botanicals (including citrus fruits, cloves, elderflower and cardamom) most of which are grown on site, in true grass-to-glass fashion. Justin explained to me how he felt the distillery linked to his childhood, when the site of the distillery used to be a dairy farm where cattle were kept. Now they make Irish milk-based gin here and it’s all come full circle. This, in turn, contributed to the nomenclature of the gin – named after Bertha, the oldest cow in the world, who happened to be from County Kerry. We watched whilst the gin was being bottled and carefully labelled by hand. It’s clear how much passion, effort and care goes into each bottle and the taste epitomises why Bertha’s Revenge has won many awards for it’s flavour and smoothness. If you’re a gin fan and haven’t already tried it you’ve got to! In London, it’s stocked in London at a number of bars and restaurants, including Bull in a China shop, Shoreditch, The London Gin Club, Soho and Bar Boulud, Knightsbridge.

Ballyvolane House_ Bertha's Revenge Gin Distillery Irela

If you can drag yourself away from the heady fragrance of the distillery, you can continue to walk across the grounds, of which there are lots! See the lakes and take a walking trail to build up your appetite for what is sure to be a fantastic dinner. Or head straight inside to the honesty bar and enjoy an aperitif.

Ballyvolane dinners epitomise the foodie values of the house. Dinners here consist of five course meals served family-style in the exquisite candlelit dining room. Justin and Jenny are real foodies! Like myself and the Doc, they plan their holidays around food, as such they know that a true foodie vacation spot should centre around wonderful meals. Ballyvolane insists that all food should be seasonal and local, and this has always been the case, since Justin’s parents opened their home up to guests. The majority of ingredients are grown onsite, and those that can’t are sourced locally and sustainably. For instance, Ballyvolane are taking advantage of the artisanal cheeses and chorizos that are being made in Gabine, West Cork, just miles away. Justin’s father is a farmer by background and still farms onsite growing fruit, veg and herbs on the land, you’re sure to see him when you walk around the gardens. Justin and Jenny pride themselves on being able to give the story behind each ingredient so you know it’s truly local, ingredient-led cooking.

Our dinner was a lengthy affair, hours of delicious courses which have you tossing up between the fear of missing out and your increasingly full stomach. It changes daily but ours included a teacup of spiced red pepper soup with a selection of head chef Tina’s homemade Irish soda breads. The sweet soup paired perfectly with the soft almost-nutty soda bread and local salty butter and it was seriously moreish. Even now, weeks later, I’m craving her bread!

The starter was a huge plate of beetroot and goats cheese salad, epitomising the ethos of fresh food grown locally. Pickled yellow beetroot harmonised with sweet purple beetroots, soft local goats cheese and toasted pine nuts.

For mains, we had an absolute treat – McGrath’s sirloin with béarnaise sauce, gratin dauphinoise and walled-garden cabbage. The dauphinoise reminded me of the amazing meal we had at La Petite Maison Dubai and the perfectly pink meat, was flavourful and succulent.

It paired very well with the Sophenia Fina Reserve Malbec we ordered and by this point our smiles were permanent fixtures on our faces. Honestly, I don’t think it could have been any better! Friends we made visiting the hotel sung the praises of the local lamb at Ballyvolane too, stating it’s some of the best they had tried so I’m dying to go back soon to try it.

Dessert was drool-worthy and unashamedly homely. The warm blackberry and apple crumble cake came whole and is sliced at the table. It’s the perfect balance of cinnamon with flavours of toffee overlaying the chunks of tart, juicy apple and sweet crunchy crumble topping. The sweetness is cut perfectly with dots of warm blackberry. This was served with chantilly cream and a generous portion of vanilla ice cream flavoured with lots of vanilla. Unfortunately, the ice-cream had specks of ice in it suggesting it had may have melted before being refrozen, but as the flavour of the cake was so good that the ice cream wasn’t even needed and instead the cake and cream married together perfectly.

Finally, filled to the brim, the fourth course arrived. We tried some of the local artisanal cheeses from Cork and Tipperary. Seriously, these are so good that I’d urge you to save space for them. Served with a fig cake, fresh pear from the gardens and three types of crackers, this cheese board is one you don’t want to miss.

Tina, the chef has been at the hotel for 10 years and makes all of the pastries, sauces and even the meringues as well as the in-room treats like the homemade black currant cordial and wonderfully crumbly cookies, completely from scratch. Her flavour combinations were absolutely spot on and reinforced the idea that simple cooking with high quality ingredients is hard to beat! And the portion sizes… well… they’re seriously generous so I defy anyone who isn’t full to the brim by the end!

I can imagine Ballyvolane would make the most perfect place for a getaway with friends in the winter, sipping Sloe Gin and Fevertree tonic, sprawled on the chestnut chesterfields and chatting away with your loved ones, by the roaring fireplace. Heaven? I think so. I loved so many things about our stay here, from the warm service, the gorgeous rooms, the views, and the little details. It’s those little things that set apart one luxury hotel from the next. We had a real sense that it was so homely that nobody would bat an eyelid if you went down in your robe and slippers for a nightcap! You could cosy up on the chestnut coloured chesterfields by the roaring fire at any point, and lose hours just relaxing. All our stresses melted away during our two nights there and I can’t possibly recommend it enough for those in need of a proper break for total relaxation.

Ballyvolane House have nailed it and have my vote for the best spot for a winter break! Justin, Jenny and the Ballyvolane team make you feel relaxed, at home and truly taken care of. For instance, they kept the rest of our bottle of red for us in the honesty bar to enjoy the next day. They asked about our allergies ahead and offered to take off shellfish from the entire menu for our stay to ensure there was no risk of the Doc having a reaction. The honesty bar, where you just help yourself to a tipple for your fancy and write on what you drink (of course you can still ask them to whip up a cocktail for you if you prefer), makes you feel trusted and not feel the need to find someone to sign for each drink or snack. We loved that they had wellies onsite so you don’t need to check-in a big suitcase to fit them. We loved that there were Barbour jackets available to borrow for your long walks. The latest copy of every luxury travel magazine I enjoy reading was there waiting for me, and when I asked for local restaurant recommendations they were actually brilliant foodie spots that Justin, Jenny, or Ewan had personally tried, rather than the sterile list of places that are nearby that some hotels offer. It’s a fine example of how all luxury hotels should operate.

This is a dream of a place for serious foodies and I can’t urge you enough to go. You may come back a couple of pounds heavier but you’ll have a weight lifted from your shoulders and every meal will have been a joy. Go, have the best time and make sure you tell me all about it in the comments below if you do!

More details can be found on Ballyvolane’s website, link here.

Where’s your favourite countryside retreat or foodie hotel? What little details do you love when you’re in need of a relaxing break? Comment below or on my Instagram with where I should go for similar luxury stays!

My stay at Ballyvolane Housewas complimentary on a B&B basis but my opinions are, as always, exactly my own.

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