on September 19, 2014
After more than two years living in Dublin, this past spring I prepared to move back home to Boston. As I began to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, I made a mental list of things I wanted to do before I said goodbye – or, more accurately, see you later – to the country that had become my adopted home.
At the very top of that list was one place: Ballymaloe.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Ballymaloe is a B&B, restaurant and cookery school that is synonymous with good food in Ireland. It’s owned by Darina Allen, the grande dame of modern Irish cooking, and is a place where farm-to-table dining existed long before farm-to-table was even a thing.
When I arrived in Ireland in 2011, I had little knowledge of the country or its culture, but soon I found myself – somewhat surprisingly – falling in love with its cuisine. No, not the meat-and-potatoes dishes that people often think of, but instead, the hearty, grown-with-love food that you find around the country today. The more I learned about Ireland’s vibrant culinary scene, the more I wanted to visit Ballymaloe. I dreamt of seeing the place where it sort of all began; the place that had inspired and instructed many of the country’s most talented chefs, and continues to do so today.
Less than two weeks before I got on my one-way flight home, I finally turned that dream into a reality. Accompanied by my mother, who loves good food as much as I do, I made the journey from Dublin to Shanagarry in Co Cork, to spend two days at Ballymaloe.
We pulled up to the house in the late afternoon, tired from an early morning tour of Powerscourt Gardens in Co Wicklow and the long, rainy drive that followed. As I opened the car door and stepped outside to take it all in, though, I began to feel energized. The house looked just as it did in the many photos I had seen, with its blue door and vines clinging to the Georgian façade. It felt like seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time; that moment when you view with your own two eyes a place that had previously only existed in photographs or movies.
After relaxing for a little while in our room – which was, very pleasantly, TV-free – we went into “Ireland’s most famous dining room,” where both breakfast and dinner are served. It was warm and comfortable, and just like the no-television policy, I very much appreciated the no-mobile-phones-at-dinner rule. After all, if you’re lucky enough to dine at Ballymaloe House, you should soak it up with all five senses.
Both nights, dinner was simple but fresh and full of flavor. On the first evening, I had homemade taglierini pasta with kale to start and Ballymaloe’s own pork as my main. Mom enjoyed a delicious salad of mixed greens, pomegranate seeds and pistachio as her appetizer and followed it up with cod caught just down the road in Ballycotton.
The next night, I went for the cod while Mom had Ballymaloe beef. We skipped dessert on the first evening but made up for it on the second by indulging in a selection of Irish cheeses (Cashel blue, goat and cheddar) as well as lemon tartlet (my personal favorite) and rhubarb pudding.
The food didn’t disappoint, but I have to say, what really stands out in my mind is the ambiance and all the little details: the helpful staff, the bird feeder outside our window, bottles of fresh well water waiting for us in the room, the pigs snorting and playing out on the farm. The list goes on.
Before the pilgrimage – it really was that kind of journey for me – many people told me that visiting Ballymaloe was the trip of a lifetime; a dream holiday. In the end, though, it was even better than what I had imagined. Looking back on it now, nearly six months later, I can’t help but want to experience it all over again, both the tranquil beauty of the Irish countryside and the simple pleasure of eating truly good food.
If you’re in the Boston area and want to experience a little piece of Ballymaloe yourself, visit iFest from September 26 to 28 at the Seaport World Trade Center. Not only will Ballymaloe Foods be represented, but Darina Allen will also give cooking demonstrations at the Chef’s Theatre throughout the weekend.