BY MARIA DALY
The South-East is pretty, it’s really pretty. And on a fresh sunny morning the bright yellow fields of rapeseed, the rustic stone walls, and delicate hanging baskets that greet us as we enter village after village are lovely - just lovely.
Our road trip is bringing us to Carlow; Borris to be exact, and to the Step House Hotel.
I’d heard the odd glowing review of the hotel from friends, most of whom had been there for weddings, “The food was unreal”, “It’s so pretty, the little garden is not to be missed”, they would harp on as you see them float off, lost in memories of magical trips to Carlow! Yes, Carlow!
Driving into Borris it’s clear a lot of things are pretty around here. It’s a picture-perfect postcard for what quaint Irish villages should be, and in the heart of it is the Step House, a gastronomic hidden gem that I’m not going to tell everyone about!
But first, the hotel itself. It has a feeling of comfort and relaxation, but with a touch of mystery. With charming old world stairways and hidden rooms, it’s fun and romantic.
The staff are amazing, they’re patient and funny and more than happy to answer any questions, and lead us to our room. Rooms are bright and fresh and come with balconies overlooking the “pretty little garden”. You instantly appreciate why any couple would want to tie the knot, or celebrate wedding vows in such a unique setting. It’s simply whimsical.
After settling in we’re off to find the bar! There’s a cocktail with my name on it, and after a few wrong turns we discover an atmospheric little bar hidden away from the mains stream of guests where our hosts are waiting to welcome us.
Sipping on a pretty decent cosmopolitan discussions flutter between triathlon training, local politics, and of all things - snails!
Our waitress for the evening, Eva Milka, breeds free-range edible snails on a snail farm in Carlow. Step House is most definitely foodie heaven.
After cocktails it’s down to The Cellar Restaurant which has just launched new opening hours with midweek foodie breaks.
The food on offer is fresh, local, and packed with flavour. Everything is plated up with care and attention, and the wine pairings suggested by Eva are spot on. The starters of Ardsallagh goats cheese mousse were light and creamy. For mains, the line-caught cod with basil crust, mussel vinaigrette, scallops, and rouille was melt-in-the-mouth and all were complemented by the Petit Chablis. All topped off by a chocolate and peanut butter brownie that I’ve yet to find better!
The extended opening hours of The Cellar Restaurant will allow more diners to experience some of brilliant young head chef Alan Foley’s deliciously local menus - as local as can be, with lamb from the town, bought whole from neighbouring farmers, free-range chicken and Tamworth pig from Ballon, and an innovative partnership with Goresbridge Community Garden, who supply him with herbs and vegetables, seeds, and fruits.
This is a must for food fans who appreciate honest and fresh local ingredients all served in the setting of a beautiful Georgian house.
The 20 bedrooms at the Step House Hotel are large and comfortable, some with terraces, others with Juliet balconies, and many with sublime sweeping views of the neighbouring countryside with Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains to the east, and the Barrow Valley to the west.
The colour schemes throughout are fresh and contemporary, where creams, sage greens, and off-whites, antiques and artworks, flatscreen TVs and gleaming marble come together in an expert blend of old world and up-to-date.
There are also self-catering two-bedroom cottages and apartments at the Step House Hotel, and a marvellous penthouse suite, an impressive series of rooms with fabulous views at the top of the house, with a private terrace, sauna, and a living area with a sweeping curve of floor to ceiling windows, with Mount Leinster as the backdrop.
For more information log on to www.stephousehotel.ie