Grub Spy: Pleasure Palace

When even the simple dishes are beautifully crafted, you know you’re onto a winner at this hotel where the style meets substance, writes Grub Spy Alan Kelly

The hotel’s impressive exterior

The tasty Caesar salad

The lemon tartlet

Sunday World

The five-star Cashel Palace Hotel is not a new building. In fact, located in the picturesque heart of county Tipperary, with the hauntingly beautiful Rock of Cashel as an eye-catching backdrop, the red-brick Queen Anne-style building has been around, in one guise or another, since 1732.

CASHEL PALACE HOTEL Main Street, Cashel, Co Tipperary 4.5 stars Food: €30.80

A few years back, due to a blown head gasket, the Boss and I were obliged to spend a night there. Our stay was a pleasant experience, the staff were smiling and helpful, and the breakfast at least was exactly what we expected.

However, like lots of old-fashioned country hotels, it was in serious need of sprucing up. Don’t get me wrong, the place had a certain kind of charm. But God was it dull — which I suppose culinary-wise went with the territory.

The dining room, for example, with that excruciating country-house quietness where you end up conversing in whispers, was about as seductive as a rarely-visited country museum. The food was OK, but like the building, the kitchen needed a boot up the old whatsits. And boy, oh boy, has that been done. John Magnier had arrived from Coolmore Stud just up the road in Fethard.

You really had to experience the old set-up to fully appreciate what has since taken place here. Personally, I have never been totally at ease or impressed by the impeccable starchiness of five-star hotels. They very often leave me somewhat cold, joyless and quite unrelaxed.

But this revamp, refurbishment, or whatever you want to call it in Cashel, is a thrilling example of how to get it absolutely right. Having said that, will they also get it absolutely right in the kitchen?

One way to get a handle on a new bespoke menu is to check out the simple things. I’m happily ensconced under an umbrella on the garden patio, looking out at the prettiest gardens you can imagine. It’s a place where the sun shines and life feels good.

I love a Caesar salad. When it’s right, you can’t go wrong. Here they are big on precision without sacrificing flavour. A Little Gem lettuce, halved, is slathered in a flawless Caesar dressing of garlic, anchovy, egg yolk, parmesan, lemon juice and oil. It is capped with juicy chicken breast, rashers grilled on the right side of crispy, and a toasted wafer-thin crouton. I’ve so often been disappointed with this glorious salad I’d pretty much given up ordering it. OK, at €16.50 this is a tad on the expensive side. As a special treat though, it is also a distinctly adult dish and a rare combination of crowd-pleasing and deliciousness.

I finish my dreamy posh lunch with a perky little lemon tartlet with fingers of gorgeous coconut meringues and beads of sweet strawberry gel for €11.50. It is scrumptious, feather-light and intensely tangy, but pleasantly evened out by the velvety coconut.

Somebody has thought very carefully about what is going on here. It is pricey, but with stunning scenery and that amazing interior, it is the epitome of what matters in a cracking hotel. Aside from the rather annoying 10pc service charge, this place finally has it all.

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