Published 4 June 1995 Style Magazine 100th article
Local heroine: Vanessa Perry lines up with the locals outside a Kenmare shop (Arnold Crust)
It's probably because I only have a third class honours degree in Law and Economics from Cambridge that I ﬁnd the Michelin Guide rather difficult. All those castles, knives and forks, different colours and other symbols! Very confusing! I do like their use of red which denotes pleasant hotels. The same listing in black presumably means they're unpleasant. Ireland has only one three-turret hotel (the top) and that's in red and in Kildare. Next, it has only two two-turret hotels in red and they're both in Kenmare.
It was to one of these, the Park, that I was headed. A local sat on a wall by the village green in front of the church and I asked him the way. "It's two and a half miles back there," he said indicating. "Nonsense," I said to Vanessa, stopping somebody else. "It's at the top of the road on the right," said another inhabitant, pointing in completely the opposite direction. And indeed it was. By now, when you took your foot off the accelerator of my rented 1978 Volkswagen convertible, there was a series of loud bangs and lurchings; when you put it on to the accelerator, the roar from the blown exhaust was like a manic, 1950s hot-rod. My arrival at the Park Hotel's sedate frontage was not quiet. Nor was there any sign of a doorman or a porter. After a while one turned up, which at least was more than they did last time I was at Claridge's.
The suite was as elegant and old-fashioned a hotel space as I've ever seen. There was an 1882, dog-eared, limited edition of the works of Charles Dickens, very charming antique furniture and mirrors, some pleasing oil paintings and, above an enormous double bed, a set of seven saucy Edwardian pinup pictures in an arts and crafts frame. I wondered if they'd heard of my age and decided I needed help. The view from the suite's bay windows was spectacular. There were palm trees, sloping lawns, a tidal estuary, an old house, and rolling hills beyond. Guests were having tea on the lawn, so I joined them on rather dodgy white plastic furniture. It was the worst tea I have ever had in my life. The sandwiches were grossly indelicate, great lumps of white bread, with two sandwiches speared together with a toothpick! Horrid potato crisps with holes in them and some tired salad surrounded them. The smoked salmon sandwiches were open and on very heavy wholemeal bread. The cakes, three types, two of each, were unspeakable. They gave the impression of having been in the deep-freeze far too long and not much good before they went into it.
Dinner started no better. A manager in the hall said they "preferred" a tie. The owner, a very nice man called Francis Brennan, said "neat dress" would do. The only jacket I had was bought at the Warner Brothers toy store in Regent Street, in London. It's in an insignificant sort of cotton with three embroidered images of Bugs Bunny on the breast pocket. "You go in first," I said to Vanessa, who looked rather fetching in a flowered summer dress. Perhaps it was my Bugs Bunnies, but the head waiter ignored us totally. The menu named him Jim McCarthy. He had a tail coat and white pocket handkerchief. His assistant took our order and when I asked for the wine waiter the same assistant returned. When I asked for Mr McCarthy I was told I'd have to wait. This is not "No task is too small, none too burdensome", which is printed on their brochure, I thought. The assistant head waiter was asked to decant the wine but didn't. The room wasn't full and I was getting increasingly irritated. Not a good thing to be anywhere near, I assure you. Eventually Mr McCarthy deigned to come over. "Obviously you have more important things to do than greet the customers . . ." I started icily. The food was okay. The waitress brought not only the wrong dessert but one from the menu of the day before! They have a Michelin star but the chef who got it for them has since left. I compare all one Michelin star restaurants to the Canteen. This was nowhere near as good. The hotel in general, to be fair, is definitely pleasant. I liked it. Put me in charge for a couple of weeks and maybe it would live up to its brochure!
My final meal in Ireland was a total triumph. It was at Cork airport. The Irish are particularly good at airports. I wandered round the self-service there and had some truly excellent sausages and baked beans with mustard and a ﬁne cuppa tea. Who says I lack the common touch!
In his article on Dingle (May 21), Michael Winner expressed an architectural distaste for our hotel building. As you cannot judge a book by its cover, so likewise you cannot judge a hotel by its structure. The hotel is purpose-built, of the late 1960s. The bedroom block is a three-storey building, and to the left is a single-storey building which incorporates the service areas reception, bar, restaurant etc. This excellent design ensures that noise levels do not interfere with our clients' relaxation or sleep. It is not obtrusive and is nestled sympathetically into a corner of the bay. Aesthetically, it is far more pleasing to the eye than the high-rise hotel buildings being built all over the world at the moment. If Mr Winner had entered the Skellig Hotel, he would immediately have been aware of its unique atmosphere, which reflects the culture, tradition and heritage of our area through the warm oak panelling, paintings and open fires. Our award-winning Coastguard Restaurant overlooking Dingle Bay is marshalled by Patrick Clement, who has won gold medals for his country at international culinary competitions. The building site referred to is in the final phase of a three-year programme for a new sewage system. Dara White recommended the Dingle Skellig Hotel to Mr Winner for the right reasons atmosphere, warmth, service and our people.
Sean Cluskey, Dingle Skellig Hotel, Ireland
Nice to see that Michael Winner backed three winners in discovering Milltown House, the Beginish restaurant and Dick Mack's pub, on his recent trip to beautiful Dingle (May 28). He's absolutely right about Moore's food in the Beginish. It would with ease grace any posh restaurant in London. But in relation to Dick Mack's, I think Oliver MacDonnel was having Michael on, in the nicest possible way, when he told him a keg of stout would only last a month. I can confirm that an hour is a long time in the life of a barrel of Guinness in wondrous Mack's.
John Kirwan, Castleknock, Ireland
I don't believe it. Our self-appointed guru of food and wine tells us he had never had an Australian wine (May 28). A 14-year-old Penfolds Grange, which assuredly ranks among the great red wines of the world and one an educated wine drinker would go on his knees before. Michael Winner thought it "mild and harmless". Good grief. Assessing draught Guinness is clearly more in his line.
Reg Williamson, Kidsgrove, Staffs