The Hungry Monk, Cong, Co.Mayo

I was in Connemara yesterday working hard (!) and the drive home took me through Cong Village. It really is a gem. Excellent eateries on almost every corner it seems (will try Pat Cohan’s Bar next time). Today I stopped in The Hungry Monk for lunch. I met Aisling Butler a few months ago when she was considering opening something in Cong, and we should be very glad she did!

Today I had the Pork Belly, Tomato and Broad Bean stew. It came served with Sourdough Bread which would be wonderful for mopping up the sauce, but on Aisling’s suggestion, I had mash instead. Lovely, light yet creamy mash, perfectly seasoned. The pork had been slow cooked for 12 hours. Yes 12 HOURS I said! As a result it was so tender, it just fell apart with the fork. The sauce was what you might describe as rustic – chunky veg, plenty of beans, sweet, really flavoursome. A great combination of textures and flavours overall (as we say in the trade, ahem!).

If you’re on the road from Ballinrobe to Galway, divert into Cong, and have your lunch here. I declined dessert, but the sweet treats looked really good – all homemade that morning.

Keep up the great work Aisling and Jon! I’ll be back.

The Kelly Belly – its no myth!

When I was about 8 or 9 my parents would drive us out to Rosslare from Wexford town (where we lived for a couple of years) so we could play on the beach. As I recall, Summers were always sunny, and while we played, we saw people coming onto the strand from Kelly’s Resort Hotel, bringing their picnics, and generally looking well fed & relaxed. Even then I knew from listening to my mother that Kelly’s was THE place in terms of family hotels. Fast forward 25 years and my mother and I return for a short stay. This time I’m pregnant with my first baby, though still managed Crazy Golf and a boogie on the dance floor to the house band!

For 3 years in a row when the children were small, both under 5, we took our little family for a week at a time to stay in Kelly’s. We always went in September since this is their Focus on Sport month. It was tennis, crazy golf, table tennis, bowls, horse shoe throwing, table quizzes, you name it, from sun up to sun down. We loved it! And we could justify the near constant eating because of our strenuous exertions on the (Crazy) Golf course!

Apart from the activities and the brilliant (best in Ireland?) kids club, its the food and sheer pleasure and relaxation that people talk about. I’m pleased to report that in the spirit of checking that they’ve been consistent in their standards (well someone has to do it!), Mum and I returned last month after an absence of 6 years to check it out. At this time of year Kelly’s still has a variety of activities, and the week we were there Dermot O’Neill was giving gardening talks, and we attended two of these. Lots of notes taken, no action yet!

We took the train – she from Galway, me from Collooney, met in Connolly and so on to Rosslare Strand. This has to be the most scenic train journey in Ireland – the line hugs the coast down to Bray and then follows the Slaney. We were met at the station by the Kelly’s bus and so began 3 days of bliss.

Our room was lovely – in the new part of the hotel, above the Spa, and with a sea view. There was a bottle of Kelly’s Blanc de Blanc bubbly in the room with a card wishing us a happy birthday! This trip was a treat to ourselves, falling between both our birthdays. So we started doing nothing, sitting about, relaxing, wondering how soon we could start eating.

Day 1 – Dinner

First of all, very unusually for a place like this and with only one exception, there was no food provenance on the menu on any night. An extreme oversight.

Starter A – Confit of Duck on a bed of savoy cabbage – this must be in vogue at the minute because its the third time I’ve seen it on a menu in the past month AND its one of the dishes I cooked at Neven Maguire’s Cookery School in January. It was good though, the fat all properly rendered, the meat falling off the bone. Really good according to Mum;

Start B – Chicken Liver Pate with toasted brioche. A bit ordinary to tell you the truth. the pate was bland but was saved by the marmaladey side dish (that’s a technical term, btw). Salad was ordinary, toast a little dry.

Main Course A – Turbot – a huge portion, but fresh and tasted good. Main Course B – breast of pheasant on a bed of (lacked finesse) – a big pile of food, topped off with a rasher for some reason. Looked like something you’d eat after a hard day working out doors. Not too good.

Dessert A – Warm sticky toffee pudding (neither warm nor sticky). The sauce was a bit scarce and so more was requested – it came and was poured all over, now a little too much. Dessert B of Pistachio Creme brûlée with stewed apple and crumble. It was a bit thrown together looking, and again lacked that special touch.

Overall, dinner on Day 1 was disappointing.

Day 2 – Breakfast 

We breakfasted in The Beaches dining room, table service, very nice, no complaints, nothing to write home about either though.


When it comes to lunch, you tell yourself that you’re still full from dinner the night before and the big breakfast you only finished at 10am, but then they serve lunch, so what’ll you do?! It’s a great buffet affair, fab range of salads and cold meats, at least 3 or 4 hot dishes and then an extensive spread of desserts (some left over from last night’s dinner). My dessert (at lunchtime?) was a lime jelly topped with vanilla creme – absolutely limey, light and lovely.


Tonight we were joined by my good friend Bernie who lives and works in Wexford. Starters included smoked salmon, roasted crab claws and mozzarella & tomato salad – thumbs up all round.

Main courses of Monkfish with chickpeas for Mum & Bernie and Scallops for me were a big improvement on last night. However, my scallops were covered in a mushroom sauce for  some reason which overpowered them somewhat. Personally, I prefer my scallops just lightly fried and served without sauce, just a wedge of lemon. I had them recently in the Inis Meain Suites restaurant and have never tasted better.

Dessert of chocolate tart was certainly chocolately but dense. It should have come with creme anglaise (I think) but instead a big squirt of vanilla icecream. I had lemon cake light, lemony, moist, yummy.

Day 3 – Breakfast 

Breakfast this morning was in the Ivy Room – a great buffet of a thing, and all the fruit, cereal, hot food, bread, toast and pastries you could eat. So we did!

Lunch – All I could manage was soup. I swore off dessert, but then ate almost all of Mum’s lemon cake (familiar from the night before).

Afternoon Tea – we declined this both days. However, the queue for the cakes snakes its way from the counter back through the Ivy Room. Its as if people have been starving for days! I remember when we were there a few years ago, and being in Wexford in the afternoon for a bit of shopping. My husband was getting very anxious about finishing up shopping and getting back to the hotel in case we would miss afternoon tea. Its amazing how the body adapts to accommodate volume. It would be a waste; after all, it’s included!

Dinner – getting better with each night – we should have stayed a week! We were joined by an old family friend from Wexford. Starters included melon (how presbyterian), smoked duck (fabulous) and salmon roulade. Main courses of halibut (huge, fresh, fantastic), some sort of casserole (sorry!) and roast duck breast. Desserts of chocolate bomb-thingy (really good description, I know…), vanilla cream slice, and I had cheese. When they ask you which cheese you would like and you say you’ll have them all, you know that you’ve totally succumbed.

Kelly’s is great, it really is. There is no doubt at all that I’ll be back with the family. There’s just something about the service, the hospitality, the atmosphere. I felt completely relaxed and de-stressed at the end of 3 days. I hardly thought about work (and that’s really saying something). We met some lovely, interesting people. I haven’t even mentioned the Sea Spa, and all I’ll say is – go! And while I’ve had better food, perhaps I’m a bit fussy, because I ate everything that was put in front of me, everything!

As for the infamous Kelly Belly – 3lb in 3 days, that’s all I’m saying!

 Photos take by Oonagh except 3 from Kelly’s website





What have I done for you lately?!

Despite my obvious love of food, I can hereby tell you that I have rejoined Weight Watchers to try and keep a lid on the calories and have lost 8.5lb already in 5 weeks! Yay me!!

Enough about me! The past month has been hectic what with the book coming out and everything.

I launched the Westport Food Festival on Sept 6th, sharing the stage with none other than John McKenna, he of the Bridgestone Guides.

I have to tell you, John was very really nice & friendly and give me lots of tips for when when talking about “The Book”. For example…don’t call it “The Book” or “My Book”, make sure to give it its full title! So that’s Money for Jam – the Essential Guide to Starting Your Own Small Food Business. Available on Amazon, The Book Depository from the publisher, Oaktree Press and in bookshops! Also, in McCambridges, Rua and Eithna’s by the Sea! Easons has ordered 200 copies, so get into your local bookshop and buy it…..please !! If they don’t have it in stock, ask them to get it. In the audience in Westport were some great producers and food businesses from all around Mayo. Up Mayo!

So other than all the book stuff, I’ve still been checking out the best producers and place to eat. I have to mention first, that one of my favourite producers, Margaret Farrelly of Clonarn Clover appeared on The Secret Millionaire last night. We have known for ages what a wonderful woman Margaret is, and now the rest of Ireland knows too! She’s exactly as you saw her on the telly – natural, genuine, sweet. A lovely lady, with a great business!

Tonight I’m in Scholars Townhouse again in Drogheda. I’m afraid I left the phone charging while I had dinner, so no photos, but can highly recommend the almost perfect Sea Bass on a bed of perfectly seasoned champ, served with samphire ( I ADORE samphire) and red cabbage, with a sundried tomato and basil cream sauce. The samphire and red cabbage were sitting on top of the fish which was on top of the champ. Perfect proportions of everything. The staff are excellent, great service (even making an appointment for me for the local nail bar!). The rooms are a little spartan though, a bit old fashioned. Could do with comfier bed covers. Small quibble.

When I was walking through the town earlier this evening, I passed by the Highlanes Gallery. I get invitations to openings here for some reason, and recently noticed one about bread.

Interestingly, one of the sponsors of the exhibition is McCloskey’s Bakery, a client of mine and the reason I’m in Drogheda tonight! If you haven’t tasted McCloskey’s bagels, then you haven’t tasted bagels. Seriously.

In other news….

On the way to Limerick last week I was surprised to find this gem in Bunratty. JP Clarke’s Country Pub recently awarded Clare’s Best Gastro Pub 2013 by the Restaurant Association of Ireland and Gallagher’s Seafood Restaurant was also awarded Clare’s Best Restaurant 2010.

I’m on a constant search for the best chowder in Ireland, and this one came very close, though expensive at €7.95! Before….    After…!

Service was excellent, with a selection of breads being offered and served by the waitress from a basket. The sinks in the toilets look a bit like a sluice room though!   Better yet was the fish soup (note – not listed as chowder) I had in Eithna’s by the Sea in Mullaghmore last Sunday. Welcome back Eithna!! And…Brody Sweeney (he late of O’Brien’s Sandwich Bars) was there and bought a copy of my book!

And finally, at the weekend it was the husband’s birthday, so we made the now traditional trip to the Club House for dinner on Saturday night. How lucky are we to have this on our doorstep?!

That’s it for now, night all.