I’ve always had a soft spot for Hayfield Manor. When my mother worked in UCC, just around the corner, it was her number one choice for entertaining all and sundry. Even in retirement, she’s only looking for an excuse to round up a bevy of daughters and daughters-in-law to head off there for afternoon tea. I’ve even squeezed in a little discreet socialising myself there over the years.
Discretion is the operative word – it’s a place you’d never stumble across in a million years although close to the heart of the city, a little oasis of mature trees and shrubbery lending instant bucolic charm for which most other city hotels would eat their plastic potted plants.
And when I finally walked up the aisle with Mrs Swashbuachaill, the photographer dragged us along to make use of their greenery for some becoming backdrops. We’d have happily have left him snapping trees while we supped porter and champagne but grudgingly stood in for a few in the end, a little something for the Mammies’ mantlepieces.
The décor is faux-library, dark wood-panelling and burgundy leather armchairs, but it’s done with taste and keeps both the American and homegrown guests very happy in their surroundings. (There’s no NAMA tumbleweed drifting through the halls of this establishment and nary a hint of recession about their clientele – a welcome respite.) The bathrooms are stocked aplenty with the class of branded unctions and ungents that would have seasoned Brown Thomas counterhands purring in recognition.
Yet in all those years, I’d never sat down and had an honest-to-god meal there; some lingering reservations, ‘hotel food’, and all that, perhaps? Well, last week we finally did eat there – and in some style, at the inaugural meeting of the Hayfield Manor Wine Society – a five course menu specifically tailored to complement a wine menu put together by Sommelière Sandra Biret-Crowley and Jean Louis Smyl of Famille Quiot (Rhone Valley) and Executive Chef Graeme Campbell.
We met at 7pm in the bar for an aperitif, a Cotes de Provence, Domaine Houchard 2010. I’ve always been partial to a rosé and in recent times, fashion appears to have caught up with me; or at least the fashion for a more muscular style of rosé. And this rosé had certainly been working out: ‘administered’ by Sandra and Marcus Gates of Karwig Wines, it was a deep, salmon-y pink, light, fresh with flavours of citrus and berries but underneath, a strength and fullness of body you knew well could do some damage – it made short work of some salty horse doovers, olives, nuts, crisps etc. I’d have happily sat ‘doing damage’ all night with this little number but you’d certainly need a bit of nosebag to go with it – oily fish, mackerel, salmon, perhaps, or tuna or swordfish?
We descended to the cellar restaurant, another little treat and a new one on me, an intimate little space with four or five tables at most adding a nice frisson of ‘secret’ to the society, a very friendly and convivial bunch, soon happily trading chat and comments between tables.
Professional Frenchman (in the nicest possible way!) Jean Louis did the honours, introducing each wine, while the very friendly and knowledgeable Sandra moved discreetly between tables, topping up glasses (without needing to be once asked!) and answering queries.
Pan Fried Bantry Bay Scallops, Tomato and Lime Salsa, Beetroot Jelly, Caper and Sultana Dressing.
Chateauneuf du Pape White, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2009
Scallops are a favourite food of mine, edging into the all-time top 20 of my desert island foodstuffs and it is rare that anything other than simplicity enhances their fundamental perfection. The supporting players were polite, well-turned out but each waited for the other to make the first move. All in all, quite pleasant, the scallops were fresh and toothsome, although they could have done with a deal more carmelising and even then would have struggled to stand up to one of the night’s truly exceptional wines.
A white CdP may be less familiar to Irish palates but this was stunning, a lovely pale yellow, floral and citrus aromas and a strong, long even slightly syrup-y finish. I had visions of a bottle accompanying panfried fresh mackerel with maybe a little reduction of John Pettersen’s famous Raspberry Vinegar (which I will be definitely featuring in this blog sometime in the near future!). Exquisite and a high qualifying mark set in the very first event of the night!
Orchids’ Home Smoked Breast of Duck, Duck Liver and Foie Gras Parfait, Fruit Bread, Orange Dressing
Cotes du Rhone Villages Sablet, Chateau du Trignon 2007
One slug of the Sablet and there was no question but the evening was shaping up to be a wine-lover’s dream. This was another gorgeous wine, very well balanced, spices and fruits aplenty and a lovely smooth finish. The cold smoked duck breast wasn’t long enough out of the fridge, needing to be much closer to – a very warm – room temperature to develop a bit of a ‘fatty sweat’ so tasted a little ‘thin’ with the wine. The liver/foie gras parfait, however, was spot on, and the Sablet sliced right through all that unctuous fat. It arrived on the plate as a little quenelle. I’d happily have repaired to the broom cupboard for the evening with a tub of it and a full bottle of the Sablet.
Seared Loin of Venison, Confit Yam, Parsnip, Parsley, Pickled Grelots, Damson, Game Jus
Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Cuvée Exceptionelle, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2006
A nice piece of venison (I sampled but then ignored the ‘supporting players’, a veritable cast of thousands from Cecil B De Mille’s kitchen) perfectly matched this CdP, rich fruits and fragrant flowers, a lovely soft supple feel in the mouth, smooth, long finish.
Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese, French Brie, Bandon Vale Vintage Cheddar, Cahill’s Farm Irish Porter Cheese
Vacqueyras, Chateau du Trignon 2007
Must confess, I was little disappointed at a rather anti-climactic cheeseboard especially in this year that Knockdrinna waltz off with top prize at the British Cheese Awards – Irish cheeses just get better and better. Very fond of the Cooleeney and the Bandon Cheddar is ok but just don’t get those Cahill’s Farm cheeses, processed with ‘flavours’ added. So, I made do with the Vacqueyras, lots of fruit, medium bodied and a nice tannic dryness, another lovely wine. Then I made do with another glass.
BTW Food Producers – Chef Graeme Campbell would be delighted if a few more of you introduced yourself and your wares; he’d love to feature more of the top class local produce but can’t always make the markets. Give him a call.
Baked Cheese Cake with Warm Tropical Fruits, Lemon Sorbet and Lime Syrup
Muscat de Beaumes de Venise 2008, Chateau du Trignon 2008
Got a just a single mouthful of the sumptuous cheese cake before Mrs Swashbuachaill dragged me out the door, with dire mutterings about babysitters etc but it was most toothsome. But I made sure I got a whole glass of the Muscat – again, I’m a hound for the dessert wines. (An item on the Pat Kenny Show yesterday whereby a guest advised that when seeking the advice of a wine merchant on what to purchase, you tell them what type of wine you DON’T like – I don’t like bad wine, other than that I’ll drink just about any type regardless of creed, class or colour.) Not wanting to let the side down, this Muscat maintained the same sterling performance levels of the night; a lovely, well-balanced wine, fruit, floral aromas and also on the tongue, deliciously —not sickly — sweet.
A fabulous night, all in all, only tempered by the early flight back home to relieve the babysitters. Food was lovely (despite chef Graeme and his team being ‘hammered’ on the night, coping with all the extra covers), company was brilliant, very down to earth and really, really good fun (our lovely table included Joe Karwig, Marcus Gates from Karwig’s, Donna and her Mum, from Angelfood Cookies and Jean Louis himself. At another table were legendary CorkBilly Lyons and his wife, Clare, and if I hadn’t had to leave so early, would have enjoyed meeting the other members of the evening’s society.) We even had a visit from Concierge Bart who delivered himself of a few thoughts and sprinkled a little verse, all on the subject of wine. But I am struggling to think of a night in recent times when I’ve had such a consistently good selection of the old vimto – hats off to Sandra, Jean Louis and the Hayfield Wine Society. I’ll be booking my place for the next meeting. And next time, I’ll be bringing the camera!