Christine and Dermot Gannon have created a flawless hideaway experience in the Tipperary countryside. Our short one night stay turned out to be one of my most enjoyable travel experiences ever.
My lovely mother-in-law Mary got myself and Catherine a night away in The Old Convent as a present last Christmas. It came very highly recommended by her sister-in-law Marie whose standards are very high. We headed off from Bandon mid-afternoon on a Friday and arrived little more than an hour later in Clogheen. On the way we finally passed through the legendary Ballyporeen with its Ronald Regan Visitor Centre.
The Convent itself is a gorgeous old tall building on the edge of Clogheen village in a beautiful garden. For some reason I was expecting a stern no-nonsense farmer’s wife to greet us. I couldn’t have been further off the mark. Christine is an absolutely lovely young American who knows exactly how to put you are your ease.
The whole setup of the operation is just perfect; we both kept saying “isn’t that just brilliant” as we’d discover another little touch in the room or restaurant. In particular I love the way they make it possible for you to be sociable with the lounge etc but they don’t push it on you. As two totally anti-social people when we are taking a break, we chose not to mingle.
The room was fantastic. I can’t really say much else about it. Comfy, massive bathroom, big settee and bravely, no TV. I applaud them for doing that. They have a TV in the lounge if you are desperate to see Nationwide.
The room was compelemented by a completely genius idea. They have a kitchen on the first floor too. It’s stuffed with lots of teas, coffees, chocolates, various bits and bobs you might run out of and loads of cookery books. C’mon, this is one of the smartest things I’ve ever seen in a BandB.
We headed down for dinner at 8pm and the place was soon hopping. Remember, this is basically in the middle of nowhere but can fill its dining room on a Saturday night. By our estimate, there were 3-4 other couples staying so the rest had travelled for the food. Compare that to a certain place in Ranelagh! They have a very striking white and purple motif running through the entire place which we both loved. Some nod to its religious background? The high ceilings and downstairs windows remind you of its previous function.
The meal was very impressive in every way. Not Michelin level but better for it. Fantastic flavours, interesting combinations and not a clunker in the set. The way they do it is unusual too. Everyone gets the tasting menu and they roll out the food to lots of tables at the same time. I know that sounds odd but it works and the food didn’t suffer.
A big room of diners was serviced by three staff and somehow it worked marvellously. At no point were we left waiting for anything. The staff were friendly, confident and fun.
The meal was as follows:
- Lobster Martini - This had sushi rice, wasabi, lobster, pineapple pickle, Ardsallagh whip and candied pistachios. All the flavours worked beautifully together, but I think I’d have preferred it to be smaller with less of the rice.
* Pastis Steamed Halibut in sweet and sour duck broth with duck wonton - For some reason this didn’t read well on the page but wow it delivered on the plate. Who knew halibut and duck go so well together? I think this was the highlight for Catherine.
* Seared veal fillet with braised shoulder, mushroom and pea fricassee, pecan and raisin gnocchi. Another beautiful medley of flavours that just hangs together so well. Only tiny criticism was that I expected the veal to be a bit pinker. * Raspberry and White Chocolate Tiramisu - Not much to say except there was none left when I was done * Chocolate Fondue - Stroke of genius. A bowl of melting chocolate, fondue prongs and lots of fruit to dip. We couldn’t stop eating this despite being totally full. * Cupcakes and Coffee - I was honestly so full I could only fit the coffee but the mini-cupcakes looked lovely And now for the clincher - guess how much the meal was per head? €60! If you live anywhere within an hour’s drive of there, book a meal now. This is amazing value for such high-end cooking. My only overall criticism of the meal was that it was too big. They could wind-back some of the portion sizes.
We had two wines with the meal; a Sancerre and a Reisling. Both lovely, both great value.
Off to bed we went and obeyed the stern ;-) rules on the room door which insisted on us sleeping-in and not having breakfast until 9am at the earliest! Oh, in keeping with the emphasis on relaxing there is sod all mobile signal (and no 3G).
And the breakfast, oh my god. I won’t go through the detail, I’ll just paste a photo of the menu below. I had the skillet eggs. A perfect plate of food, just perfect.
We left shortly afterwards on a beautiful Saturday morning.
I cannot come up with enough superlatives to describe The Old Convent. They have clearly thought through every single detail of their offering and I’m just in awe of them. They are the gold standard to which every other similar operation should aspire.
Pick up the phone and book yourself a night away now. You’ll leave feeling like a million dollars.