Growing exotic vegetables and herbs in their own polytunnel and targeting the family market have helped the Mount Falcon estate in Ballina survive in tough economic times, writes Barbara Collins.
There are seven varieties of mint alone grown at the kitchen garden at Mount Falcon. They’ve been planted by Head Gardener Alex Levarde, who has been ably advised by Head Chef Philippe Farineau. This multi-award winning chef does French-style food with Irish ingredients. It’s high-end cuisine, for example Achill Mountain Lamb with baby cucumbers that look exactly like miniature watermelons, and a chocolate mint sauce.
That’s one of the courses on his 11-course tasting menu which costs €69 per head. There’s also a table d’hote menu at €59. While not extortionately-priced, it still must be a challenge to fill tables?
“I think the key is to keep the quality as high as you can,” says Philippe. “The customer likes to see local produce on the menu. They also want friendly, efficient service. The waiter should be smiling and the dishes should excite them”.
He told me how the menu changes every day in high season.
“A lot of our guests are staying for two, three or four nights, so it’s important to give them variety. In winter, when it’s quieter, I change it twice a week.
“It’s all about giving them new experiences. I’m doing lots of foraging for things like seaweed, which I’m putting into our bread. I’m trying out new things in the garden too. Alex has planted black tomatoes which should be great,” says Philippe.
While some of the restaurant’s custom comes from local people who aren’t staying the night, the hotel owner and manager Alan Maloney told me they’ve also gone after a previously-neglected section of the market for Mount Falcon.
[quote_box_center]A lot of our guests are staying for two, three or four nights, so it’s important to give them variety[/quote_box_center]
“We wouldn’t have been considered particularly child-friendly before, but we’ve built a play park, we have a kids’ club and we’re finding that the 45 onsite lodges are very popular for people with small children,” says Alan.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t focusing on our traditional market of couples, corporate groups, over 50s and weddings. We’re just giving that extra option. It’s important in this climate not to rule out any potential business and the feedback from families who stay here is very positive.”
For more information on Mount Falcon Estate, visit their website here.