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28 January 2009

Limerick you're a darling

It's always the same.
Ever since we published the first editions of the Bridgestone 100 Best Guides, back in 1992, we get to publication day – which is tomorrow, Thursday 29th – and someone turns up and opens an outstanding new destination. It's been the same every year, and 2009 is no exception. Patricia has just opened No 1 Pery Square, and it's the address Limerick has been waiting for. Valerie O'Connor is knocked out.
Take it away, Val...

The restaurant at No.1 Pery Square was booked out all weekend, great to hear in these times. This chic, city centre hotel has barely opened it's doors and is already enjoying the kind of custom it deserves. The building is a lovingly restored Georgian house, situated opposite the lovely People's Park, and the new wing of the building is in keeping with the architecture of the area, low key, red brick, subtle. Patricia Couglan, from Clarina, made this project happen after several years experience in the hotel trade. She has brought classic chic to Limerick city, something we have been waiting for, and I personally applaud her.

I had booked myself in for a full-body massage in the Spa: there's a spa!! And it's in town, five minutes from where I live. Unlike other "beauty destinations" here you can arrive for your treatment an hour before to use their lovely thermae rooms and aromatherapy areas. This place is stylish, warm, calming and, being in the cellar of the building, Patricia has left some of the old brickwork exposed so, while you might float away, you never forget you are in a place full of history. Beth, as a masseuse, is gifted and Lisa is also really good at what she does. Ladies, and Men, take yourselves there.

I spent Saturday night at the hotel: it was my birthday and what better way to have a treat than this. The dining room is simple, French style elegance with lots of mirrors and carefully selected little paintings around the room. The kitchen is open at the front so you can see chef work his magic. This chef has no fear and cooks lots of big, robust dishes just right for this time of year. Starters of peat smoked haddock and potato chowder promised a brave step from a traditional favourite. Foie gras, seared, the best way to have it was on the menu but I'd just eaten foie gras the day before (birthday remember!!) so I chose the rabbit rillettes with apricot chutney and slivers of toasted sourdough baguette.
The rillettes were perfectly preserved, a rough type of pate with lots of flavour, delicious piled on the toasts with the chunky, plump apricots. My friends starter stole the limelight, steamed mussels in Normany cider with shallots. So simple yet as soon as she lifted the lid you could get the smell of the West coast of Ireland, like Liscannor under a lid. I stole lots of hers, as I do, sorry!! Mains were hard to chose from – pig's trotter with mash and salsify, roasted sea bream with cauliflower and tomato and ceps – were pushed aside for my choice of the special, wild boar sausage on sauerkraut with scallops in a light cream sauce. Dee had the char-grilled lamb rump with creamed potato and ratatouille, with a side of bashed neeps - that's turnips to you and me.
My dish was – I'm looking for words here – but it was really outstanding, the sausage was full of the kind of meatiness and strength you can only imagine that comes from wild boar. The cabbage was tart and tangy like it should be, then the sweetness of the scallops just made it all so perfect, heavenly. Must have that again. The lamb was perfect, chargrilled and pink, an unusual way to treat this cut of meat but it worked so well. All the veggies were perfectly treated, and devoured.

We were stuffed out of our minds already but, of course, went for dessert. Dee for the bread and butter pudding, sweet, soft and served with vanilla marscapone, mmmmm. I chose the chocolate cabernet tart, so smooth, like closing your mouth and happily meeting your maker. Creme fraiche on the side was too tart for this tart, but a minor mishap. The staff here must have been hand picked from some top qulaity list, mostly French they are classy, caring but not invasive, and full of smiles. I would love to say that I floated off to my room, and my mind did, my indulged body following slowly after.

My room, the Lord Barrington Room on the top floor is luxurious, old world with a modern edge. With sage green painted furniture and beautiful mirrors and seats to sink into, it is truly indulgent, yet simple. I slept the sleep of a baby in my princesses bed and awoke the next morning to open the curtains and look over the park. How great, and I'm here in Limerick.

Breakfast, a light one was brought to my room and I wallowed in the luxury of breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning. I just had to use the roll-top bath with the L'Occitaine toileteries before I happlily got dressed and walked the five minute walk home. What a difference a day makes.

Patricia Coughlan is a hero, bringing style, luxury and class to this city in the perfect part of town. Thank you.

Go to No.1, eat there, stay there.

No. 1 Pery Square Hotel, Pery Square, Limerick, Ireland
Phone: + 353 (0) 61 402402 Fax: + 353 (0) 61 313060