Epicurean Charlotte

Food & Wine Magazine

CHRONICLING THE JOYS OF FOOD AND WINE IN THE CHARLOTTE METROPOLITAN REGION

Pot O’ Gold: Bespoke Ireland Golf Tour Delights as Cultural and Culinary Sophistication Pair with World-class Golf

by Michael J. Solender
images courtesy Bushmills Inn, Carr Golf, Mel Maclaine, PMGC, Michael J. Solender

“Always order the seafood chowder in Ireland,” one of my playing partners said on day one of a recent eight-day golfing tour of Ireland’s northeast and the north and west of Northern Ireland.

Mere hours after arriving in Dublin, we were fueling up in the clubhouse grill at Portmarnock Golf Club. Site of numerous Irish Open Championships and rated one of the top 100 courses in the world by Golf Digest, Portmarnock’s golf links is legendary.

In choosing Ireland, I knew I was in for the golf experience of a lifetime, though five-star dining throughout the Emerald Isle was not on my radar. Ordering the chowder that first day provided only a hint of the culinary delights to come.

Chock-full of Atlantic cod, North Sea salmon, whitefish, and scallops, the creamy chowder was flecked with fresh thyme, parsley, flavorful new potatoes, and just a hint of sherry. A slice (or two) of fabled Irish brown bread, grainy and toothsome with a yeasty nose and a lovely crust, was all I needed as fortification for the awaiting round.

Hosted by Carr Golf, Ireland’s top custom golf tour operator for more than 27 years, our group of seven was set to enjoy a week’s worth of the best golf, dining, and cultural experiences this enchanted land has to offer.

After starting in Dublin at Portmarnock, we next headed north and west into Northern Ireland, beyond Belfast.

Counties Down, Donnegal, Sligo, and Mayo lined an itinerary that saw us play at the storied Royal County Down, Royal Portrush (site of the 2019 British Open Championship), Portstewart, Rosapenna, and Enniscrone.

My favorite was Portstewart, with its high ridges and jutting dunes interrupted by ribbons of green fairway, all framed by the Atlantic and its unceasing surf. Together with a club member who doubled as a caddy, I found an elusive October sunny day, and, while not exactly taming the course, finished respectably.

As my host Marty Carr, executive chair of Carr Golf remarked, “Irish links golf is an experience unlike any
other.” I now have first-hand knowledge of that fact and heartily concur.


Royal County Down

Even the most focused golfing buddy-trip in Ireland however, does not subsist on golf alone.

Case in point: Slieve Donard Resort and Spa in Newcastle embodied the gold standard of hospitality, accommodations, and fine dining.

In the shadow of the magnificent Mourne Mountains and abutting the sea only steps from its doors, the Slieve Donard has a history extending back to 1897. It was then the Belfast and County Down Railway decided to build a hotel that was worthy of its magnificent setting creating the “most imposing structure of its kind in Ireland.”

Today, the stunning Victorian hotel rests on six acres, boasts a world-class spa, fitness center, and luxurious bedrooms. The Slieve’s public space encourages lingering in quiet conversation nooks, and the property’s walking proximity to both the straw-colored beachfront and the famed Royal County Down Golf Links make it an ideal choice.

To dine here is to know both service and inspired nouvelle Irish cuisine. Menus are crafted with a great deal of forethought as they embrace farm to fork dining—without shouting it like most in America do—with proteins, produce, and dairy.

Tired from a day on the links, our group took golfer’s spa treatments (note: foot exfoliation is the bomb), cleaned up, and set off to the Slieve’s Oak Restaurant. Shared starters included an ethereal Cannelloni of Killkeel Crab and Cucumber served with watermelon salad and a piquant basil aioli and Tian of Spiced Portavogie Prawns and Avocado topped by a light chili infused oil, sweet mango, and coconut foam. The appetizer set the senses a buzz in anticipation of the mains.

For the main, I went with the Herb Crusted Rump of Mourne Lamb. Buttery tender, the lamb was a perfect mid-rare and served with a medley of root vegetables, green pea mint purée, shallot tart tartin, and a red wine jus.

Service is subtle and unobtrusive yet appears just as you require it with servers filling water glasses, whisking away bread plates, and making gentle inquiries as to the overall experience.

The tiny welcoming village of Bushmills was next on our agenda, where nearby Royal Portrush, the site of the 2019 British Open, awaited us.

After a stunning drive along the Causeway Coast, a warming peat fire welcomed us at the historic Bushmills Inn, its origins extending back to the 17th century. A charming country style inn, Bushmills takes particular pride and care in showcasing the best of Ulster hospitality and cuisine.

Local dishes featured on their menu (called ‘scrans’, a local expression for a good meal) include Dalriada Cullen Skink, which is a traditional Ulster Scots dish of smoked haddock, local potatoes, scallions and poached egg; Brotchan, an old name for a thick soup; toasted soda farls; and potato bread ‘chips’.

Bushmills excels in all facets of the kitchen, though breakfast is the true standout. This is the place to enjoy a traditional Irish breakfast with slab bacon, rashers and blood pudding, broiled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, eggs as you like them, and freshly-baked Irish soda bread.


Giant’s Causeway

Nearby was one of my favorite diversions beyond the golf course, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giant’s Causeway. An expansive geological wonder situated alongside Northern Ireland’s shores, this massive jigsaw puzzle of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns and jagged rock formations was formed over 60 million years of volcanic activity. Legend has the mythical Celtic warrior Finn McCool constructing a jumbled stone walking path all the way to Scotland to reach his beloved.

Allow at least three hours to experience the exhibitions, hike the walking trails, and simply wonder at the crashing surf of this natural marvel.


Hawk Walks

Highlighting our sojourn was an overnight stay at Mt. Falcon Estate in County Mayo. This stunning country manor home rests along the famed River Moy and boasts some of the best salmon fishing in the country.

Take a “Hawk Walk” along the forested grounds with onsite falconer, Jason Deasey. Deasey is thrilled to introduce you to his “harem” of Harris hawks, owls, and assorted raptors, who, together with an incredibly well-trained Hungarian Viszla, put on a spellbinding display of this exhilarating ancient hunting technique.

Proprietor Alan Maloney has spent years restoring this baronial lodge into one of the most sought-after countryside retreats in the country. No detail is too small in ensuring guests’ comfort, from the moist heat of the ever burning peat fires, comfy public rooms, an inviting bar with the finest Irish spirits, and first rate dining.

With incredible countryside, warm hospitality, and the best golf on the planet, it’s easy to see why Irish eyes are smiling.

For more information on Carr Golf, visit www.carrgolf.com, or call 1.855.617.5701 (U.S. toll free).

Bound for the Bahamas: Plan Your Escape to Nassau & Paradise Island

article by Sara Kendall
images courtesy Graycliff Hotel, Nassau Paradise Island Promotion Board, Sara Kendall, and Warwick Paradise Island


If you’re in need of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters, the Bahamas is for you. This Caribbean archipelago is a mix of natural beauty, island culture, and crave-worthy cuisine, making it the ideal spot for your next getaway. A quick two-hour flight makes getting to Nassau and Paradise Island easier than you may think. So, ditch the stress of everyday life and head to the islands, the pleasures of the Bahamas await you.


Island Activities

At the top of the list for any Caribbean vacation are lounging by the pool and relaxing ocean swims. Once you’ve gotten your dose of pool and beach time, Nassau and Paradise Island offer so much more fun and excitement to fill your days and nights.

Try a Tru Bahamian Food Tour, where you can taste and sip the flavors of this Caribbean island. In the heart of colonial Nassau, you will be lead by a local on a culinary and cultural walking tour with six stops, each with authentic food and drinks. Stops include Bahamian Cookin’, a local favorite restaurant that has been around over 30 years, the exquisite Graycliff Chocolatier, and the famous Tortuga Rum Cake Company. Along the way, you’ll learn about this island nation’s history and culture while satisfying your foodie adventure desires.

The Graycliff Hotel is a must-do outing, especially for wine lovers. Here you can take a tour of Graycliff Hotel Wine Cellar, where you’ll find the third largest private wine collection in the world! Once a pirate dungeon, hotel guests and diners can tour the cellar’s maze of small rooms, each storing a particular type of wine or champagne. With over 275,000 bottles, the seemingly endless racks of vino stored in every nook and cranny will amaze you. Don’t miss the million-dollar wall of French wines. Their most expensive bottle is a 1727 German dessert wine valued at $200,000. Just imagine what dessert you would pair with this wine!

If you want to dine like the stars, reserve the private dining room carved out in the wine cellar where Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James have dined.

Another must-see is John Watling’s Distillery. Situated on a hilltop, you can take a free guided-tour and hear about the history of the distillery and the three kinds of hand-produced rum produced there. You’ll taste a sample of their signature piña colada made using only fresh ingredients—prepare to be wowed!

After the tour, you can partake in tasting their spectacular three rums or sip a handcrafted rum cocktail in their very inviting bar. As you depart, pause for a few minutes on the veranda to take in the nice view of the town and their surrounding beautiful grounds. A scene from the James Bond movie Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig was filmed on the grounds, and a sign marks the spot of this action scene.

If you aren’t staying at the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, it’s well worth it to purchase a day-pass to enjoy their Aquaventure Water Park. The centerpiece of Atlantis is the 141-acre park featuring 18 thrilling water slides and a mile-long lazy river with waves, rapids, and tunnels. Adults and kids both will need plenty of time to experience all the waterpark has to offer. When you need to refill and recharge, you’ll find a number of restaurant choices around the waterpark, in addition to ample locker space to secure any valuables while enjoying the waterpark’s activities. Numerous lifeguards are stationed throughout the waterpark, and nurses are on staff to assist with any medical issues. It’s definitely worth your vacation time to spend a day here.


Where to Eat

Conch is the national food of The Bahamas and a true island specialty worth eating more than once while vacationing here. The most sought out dishes are conch fritters, known for being the best appetizer, conch salad served with chopped tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, and cracked conch, which is deep-fried served with a spicy dipping sauce. Wash down all these conch specialty dishes with Kalik, the official beer of the Bahamas.

One of the best places to find a menu full of conch-inspired dishes is the popular Fish Fry, a no-frills row of small fish stands and seafood shacks on West Bay Street. The most popular sit-down restaurants are Goldie’s, Oh Andros, and Twin Brothers. You can expect this area to be full of local flavors and atmosphere.

Dining at Graycliff Hotel Restaurant is a unique experience you won’t want to miss. Upon entering, you’ll notice Old Nassau ambiance everywhere. Along with a jazz singing pianist, you will find a cigar maker hand-rolling the perfect cigars. This hotel’s five-star restaurant’s warm ambiance, attentive service, incredible entrées, and astonishing wine list will give you one of your top dining experiences ever.

Family-run Athena Café brings a taste of the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, offering authentic Greek food. A bit of a departure from the seafood restaurants, you can order classic Mediterranean dishes like Greek salad, fresh pita bread, and lamb gyros. Located in downtown, this upstairs restaurant gives diners fabulous town views.

If the mood for modern Japanese cuisine strikes, then Atlantis Resort hosts Nobu, where famed Chef Nobu Matsuhisa brings his sensational talents to his newest restaurant outpost. Looking for classic French fare, have dinner at Café Martinique, where renowned Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has made his mark. Mediterranean-inspired dishes can be found at Olives, where famed Chef Todd English hangs his apron. These gourmet celebrity chef restaurants are highly sought out, so advance reservations are recommended; you can book them online well before your trip.


Places to Stay

Warwick Paradise Island has just completed a significant renovation, to the tune of $50 million. It’s a brand new hotel, plus it’s Paradise Island’s first all-inclusive adult only resort. Perched on Nassau’s harbor, this hotel offers guests glorious views of the harbor, yet remains easy walking distance to beaches, shopping, and entertainment. They offer five room choices from Island View to Harbour Premium Balcony rooms and six restaurants and bars, ranging from buffet to fine dining. Fishing equipment is available, and if you catch anything off their pier, the chef will prepare your catch for your dinner.

Over the past three hundred years, pirates, world leaders, and British royalty have been drawn to Graycliff Hotel, Nassau’s first and only five-star hotel. Here, their friendly welcome will make you feel as if you are a guest at the home of a dear friend. Among their 20 elegant guest rooms and cottage suites, you’ll find a mix of modern conveniences and old-world style. You can take a chocolate making class at their chocolate factory or attend a cigar-rolling lesson at their onsite cigar company. For some down time, head to their luxurious pool, the first and oldest pool in Nassau, adorned with hand painted Italian tiles.

For a resort that has everything, Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island is it! Six different hotels with over 3,800 hotel rooms, surrounded by beautiful white-sand beaches, 11 swimming pools, 40 restaurants, an enormous waterpark, a championship golf course, bars, shops, nightclubs, spas, a casino, marine habitat, and animal experiences, all there for your pleasure. How could you not love this place! The resort’s 8,000 employees keep the place up and running, taking care of your every need with a smile. This is the kind of place you check in and never want to leave.