Both the Amber Springs Hotel and Ashdown Park Hotel, situated near Gorey in Wexford, have an unusual quirk – the family run business produces their own beef and vegetables on their own farm, which exclusively supplies both hotels. The premise of having involvement in every step of creating the perfect meal from farm to fork is obviously working for the Redmond family as The Ivy Bar and Courtyard in the Ashdown Park won Bar of the Year 2018 in the South East Hospitality Awards, and the Farm Steakhouse in the Amber won an AA rosette within four weeks of opening. We spoke to people involved in various aspects of the process, to decipher how this unusual supply chain works and what challenges the Redmond family face.
The Redmond Family Farm in Craanford is approximately five miles outside the market town of Gorey and supplies all of the beef, and much of the salads and vegetables, that are used in the hotels.
The main ethos of the farm centres around 'one farm, two hotels, one vision'. Provenance of produce is key and the Redmonds are proud that they supply their own grass-reared beef and grow all of their own fodder for the Aberdeen Angus heifers on the farm. At various times through the year the farm, and thus the hotels, are self-sufficient in broccoli, cauliflower, swedes, carrots and other pesticide-free seasonal vegetables, with access to excellent local produce when it is a slower growing part of the year.
500 head of grass fed Angus cattle are reared annually on the farm – allowing the family to guarantee the hotels that they can supply on average ten carcasses per week.
“Customers need to know the origin of the excellent quality of food we have on offer. It’s an exciting project and one we are very proud of,” said Tommy Redmond. Calves start off their 16-20 month stay on a top quality milk replacer and have access to hay from the farm. Once weaned, they spend the summer months grazing. From late autumn, when grass growth slows down, the heifers move on to paddocks of redstart which is a relative of kale. The heifers that are housed for winter are fed a forage-based diet, most of which is grown on the farm, such as barley, wheat, beans and fodder beet, which are added to the maize and grass silage from the farm.
“By linking the hotel and farm entities, we reckoned it could provide us with a fairly unique position in the marketplace,” Tommy explained when discussing the unusual niche nature of the business supply chain. Not only can they ensure that all of their products are of consistent quality, but there is also a convenience element with this method of self-sufficiency. “Many times I have been working in the field to receive an email order for ten heads of cos lettuce,” said Tommy. “It can be out of the ground and down to the hotel within 20 minutes, so it really is farm to fork.”
Since 2007 the Remonds have built on the excellent reputation of their beef; now producing a burger which is the biggest seller in their restaurants. “Efficiencies in sustainability and reduction of carbon footprint are rewarded by consistent, high quality and full flavoured beef,” said Paddy Redmond. The Redmonds deal with just one end processor in Enniscorthy who hangs and butchers the sides of beef to the requirements of the chefs. There is no waste on the farm with stock pots bubbling away all day long making rich stock from beef bones and vegetables, and fat might be used to toss potatoes in prior to roasting.
Since its opening in 2005, the Amber Springs Hotel has been well received – having won no less than four awards across 2017 and 2018 alone, including Ireland’s Best Family Friendly Hotel at the Independent.ie Reader Travel Awards.
Farina, the hotel’s authentic Italian garden restaurant, has also gone from strength to strength since opening in 2016 with an increase in covers of over 80% in the last 12 months. “Overall we can proudly say our ethos of farm gate to hotel plate is actively working and reflective in our quality and success,” said general manager Eibhear Coyle. “It was only mentoring with the AA to ensure our food service and food quality matched our vision and sublime, natural product.”
Interestingly, the specific connection between the farm and the restaurants is not directly promoted by the organisation. “There is a subliminal connection across the hotel and restaurants,” Eibhear stated, “but the strongest link of course is the addition of our newest restaurant Farm Steakhouse which showcases all the best there is about the project.” This places the emphasis on the food and its consistent quality speaking for itself, earning it a great reputation. Eibhear also believes its success is down to the owners who are actively involved in every step of the process, ensuring that everything is traceable, carbon friendly and sustainable.
"It is a labour of love though as with quality, nurturing and small production that comes with a cost," Eibhear explained. "The seasonal element of our vegetable growth challenges us to move with the seasons and climate changes."
Currently Redmonds Farm exclusively supplies their own properties but are always receiving requests to supply elsewhere. “It is a current ongoing project to look at additional outlets for the beef, however this will be very selective as to what we do and who we partner with, if indeed we partner with anyone rather than extending our dining portfolio outside of the properties,” Eibhear said. “The supply is limited but the demand is high!”
Head Chef Val Murphy at Ashdown Park believes there were many initial challenges to their approach to supply, which have now been overcome. These came in the form of estimating how much beef would be needed in a few weeks time, especially when factoring in the wet and dry ageing processes. “So we need to know how much beef we will need in 6-8 weeks time, whereas when you order from a supplier you can get it weekly,” he said.
Beef comes to the restaurant vac-packed for wet ageing or on the bone for dry ageing, depending on what cuts are needed. As with every step of production, everything is done in-house from ageing to hand cutting and trimming. According to Val, striploin is the most popular for steaks and rump for slow roasting, with pulled beef brisket also becoming very popular. The success of the restaurant is down to the level of control that is involved from rearing to delivery, which as Val points out ensures consistency. “We only use the beef when it is at its best, well-aged. You don’t get that when you buy from other suppliers,” said Val. “Sometimes the beef you get could be two weeks old or it could be five weeks old - you don’t have the same control.”
The inspiration behind the menu is, according to Val, “Food done really well, using the best of local home-grown produce.” Not overcomplicating the menu and keeping it simple are key components here – allowing the food to speak for itself. New ideas on the horizon include ‘A Taste of Redmond Farm Platter’, huge ribeye steaks cooked and served on the bone for two, and a few other top-secret ideas to showcase their products.
General manager of the Ashdown Park Hotel, Paul Finegan, believes that “Sustainability in everything you do as a business is key in the current climate, and we are ticking a lot of those boxes”. Feedback from guests has been overwhelmingly positive, with many requesting the return of the slow cooked beef rib to the menu after its removal. As well as prime cuts, other cuts that have been neglected in recent years but are now making a comeback are available in both The Ivy Bar and Rowan Tree Restaurant. This success can be clearly seen through the extension of the Ivy Bar and carvery this year – showing that numbers are growing and that the business is expanding.
According to Paul, the connection between the farm and the restaurants is “Part of the fabric of the hotel, in the DNA”. The hotel offers masterclasses and chef demos, refers to the farm on the menus and deals supportively with local suppliers. “We have farm visits from Bord Bia and the Dairy Council and we are always looking for ways to develop and build on those relationships,” Paul said. “And, of course, if you deliver to your customers they will be your best salespeople.”
Celebrity Chef Neven Maguire recently filmed at The Ashdown, and according to Paul it was a pleasure to host him. “Neven has come from a family business and when he sees an operation like ours he understands the scale, the commitment and also the blood sweat and tears it takes to get it to this stage,” Paul chirped. “He is a huge advocate of local produce and suppliers and he could see that quality and provenance are our primary focus.”
So where will the future take them? It appears that continuously upgrading and developing products and how they are supplied is a key focus for the future – and this is ongoing. “At the moment we feel we are one of the best kept food secrets in the country,” Peter said. “We mean to continue to develop our product, use more vegetables from the farm and we are currently looking at a food truck to take the product out to festivals and other events – this will allow us to use more of the Angus beef from the farm in the form of burgers.”
Perhaps they are a well-kept secret for the moment but if word of mouth continues then it’s only a matter of time before the operation comes to national attention in a serious way.