Liss Ard – the gem of gems in West Cork

There are many things I love doing with my down time: walking, eating great food, relaxing, playing with my dog, Buddy. I also love heading away for a spontaneous nights away in a lovely hotel to escape the everyday.

Something magical happens when you sit down to dine with Takashi Miyazaki. It happened the first time I visited his eponymous restaurant, Miyazaki, on my birthday a couple of years ago, and it happened again last week when we sat at the Kappou counter of his new fine-dining restaurant ichigo ichie.

Liss Ard – the gem of gems in West Cork

There are many things I love doing with my down time: walking, eating great food, relaxing, playing with my dog, Buddy. I also love heading away for a spontaneous nights away in a lovely hotel to escape the everyday.

As a committed dog parent, spontaneity isn’t always possible; because, like any responsible parent, we have to get a minder or beg, plead and borrow for a boarding kennel at 11th hour notice. But I do so love it when I can indulge in all the things I love about my down time and am able to combine it with an escape to the countryside where my pet is as welcome as I am, and then add all manner of bells and whistles and what you have is one of my favourite places of all time to walk, dine, relax and have adventures with Buddy, my dog. Welcome to Liss Ard Country House Estate.

Liss Ard is less than five minutes’ drive from the bustling west Cork market town of Skibbereen. The elegant Georgian estate is nestled in 163 acres of gardens and peppered with unique vignettes such as James Turrell’s award winning Sky Garden. The elegant Country House, built in 1856, is hidden from view until arriving virtually at its doorstep. It has an immediate welcoming air, relaxed and dripping with understated luxury.

Liss Ard has changed hands many times in its 165 year history, but in the hands of the Stern Family based in Switzerland it is undergoing something of a renaissance.

Since 2017, a small but ambitious chef team has been built busy reimagining what it means to be a restaurant in a hotel. Head Chef, Danny Barter, along with a young talented sous chef in Josh Graddon, have been garnering a reputation for Liss Ard as an exciting and creative dining destination.

There are orchards, lakes, walled gardens and areas rich for collecting wild foods and mushrooms that grow in abundance in the grounds. In late Spring when the grounds reopen to the public, the woodland walks are carpeted in bluebells and the apple trees are heavy with blossom. But to really appreciate what Liss Ard has to offer, one simply has to stay and dine!

Throughout the year, Liss Ard host sumptuous dining events; tasting menus created by Danny and Josh and a welcoming experience curated by Aidan, Mags, Paul and David. Over the past two years, I have dined four times at Liss Ard, three times at their dining experience evenings. Most recently, Mr Flavour and I dined at their A Taste of Romance event on 16th February, two days post Valentine’s on a Saturday evening.

Segueway back to my dog, Buddy. Of course, you can stay in the human-friendly and rather grand surroundings of the Country House itself. The elegantly appointed rooms come with views and vistas of rolling green fields and beckoning forests as far as the eye can see. But where I love to stay is in the adjacent Mews Cottages; a handful of miniature houses-cum-apartments that open out into individual courtyards that back onto an expanse of immaculately kept lawn and head gardener, Sally’s, walled vegetable garden. These are Liss Ard’s pet-friendly cottages.

These apartments are sleek and modern and full of the comforts of home so your pet can feel like they are having a holiday and adventure in a home from home! Where practically replaces opulence, quaintness, privacy and your own courtyard patch with seats for when the sun shines more than makes up for it. You and your pooch will love it – and that’s before they have even started to explore the numerate trails, paths and super-fun spots that will leave them with their legs walked off. Perfect timing, in fact, for when you settle them in for the night as you head across to the big house, the restaurant and an evening of delectatious dining!

We are welcomed by the site of something fizzy and giddy being poured into glasses, as the sounds of piano and violin echo through the galleries and spacious drawing rooms of the first floor. Ever since we arrived to check in, there have been deep, rich, meaty aromas drifting on the breeze, catching our noses and making our tummies gurgle with desire.

We are called to dinner with a tinkling bell, and Aidan, the General Manager, requesting the pleasure of our company in the restaurant, situated downstairs. Tables are decorated simply but elegantly, and I am delighted to see that the tradition of tonight’s menu presented on an antiqued scroll is maintained.  An amuse bouche to kick things off; a playful pear dish to start; followed by duck, gin cured salmon, charcoal flame-grilled Cote de Boeuf and a buffet assiette of desserts to finish. It was an outstanding menu, a great night, super comfortable stay and a brilliant breakfast the morning after too. Plus the opportunity to walk it all off and to head home full, happy with one delighted Buddy in tow too. Now, that’s how to make everyone jealous on a Monday morning when your colleagues ask you, “What did you do this weekend…”

Read on below for my best attempts at describing how wonderful each course was. By the time you’ve gotten to the end, you’ll be looking to book into their next event, or visit, or stay, or maybe start figuring out if maybe you could just live there forever…

Follow Liss Ard on social media to get first hand news of their dining experiences, or their fantastic value stay and play packages. Bring the kids; bring the dog – make the most of every second at this gem of all hidden gems in West Cork. Have a peak around…

Amuse Bouche

Our first course was a mouth tingling Gazpacho. A light and refreshing heirloom tomato water topped with red onion and chili and a drop of herb oil. The tingle of chili and onion really set our taste buds alight – we were ready for the next five courses!

White Wine Poached Mini Pear with Baked Walnut Crumb, Pomegranate Seeds, Goats Cheese Snow, Quince Jelly, Thyme & Cranberry Dressing
This was such a fun starter! The dainty look of the dish belied the great punchy flavours. The goats cheese snow melted creamily on the tongue – it’s the perfect time of year for super creamy fresh goats cheese as the new kidding season gets underway. Walnut and thyme are perfect partners to both the pear and goats cheese. It was the cranberry gel that was the delight of this dish though… candy sweetness with a hint of tartness seemed to be bring all the elements together harmoniously.

…you know that thing in a murder mystery where the person who did it is revealed at the end, turning out to be the person you didn’t even notice earlier in the movie? That’s what the cranberry was like here! I wasn’t sure if it would be a flavour too far, but in the end it was pivotal to everything else working together perfectly!

Pan-seared Skeaghanore Duck Breast, Confit Leg Bon Bon, Garden Pea and Pearl Onion Cassoulet, Pickled Blackberries and Creme de Cassis Jus
WOW! This was our favourite course of all – and that is something as the whole menu was epic last night!
Perfectly, and I mean PERFECTLY, cooked duck breast flavoured subtly with anise; the confit bonbon with a hint of bright orange zest, sweet pickled carrots and juicy bright pickled blackberries. A total triumph; but then the pea and pearl onion cassoulet licked with the deep, rich, sweet/sour jus provided a glorious bedrock for everything else on the plate to sing. There was nothing left on our plate after this – the cooking and flavour balance were spot on.

I loved that nothing was smoked here – something that seems to happen a lot these days as a “modern twist” on cooking duck, and although I am partial to a smoked meat or two, when duck is in the hands of a chef who understands how to cook duck right, it has a delicate flavour that can be easily overtaken by smoking. Here, this dish is all about quality of the primary ingredient – the duck, and the skill of cooking it with classic flavours put together in a well considered way. Nothing sticky or crying here – these flavours are fresh, light, clean and brilliantly balanced!

Fresh Strawberry & Garnish Island Gin Cured Salmon, Elderflower Tonic Gel, Pink Grapefruit and Black Mustard Seed
After such a rich dish previously, this light and refreshing fish course was a great way to refresh the taste buds!

Thick slices of house cured salmon had taken on the flavour of the floral Gin, and the tonic gel complimented perfectly, the quinine tang balancing the rich fattiness of the fish. Pink grapefruit both cleansed the palate and partnered with the tonic gel and gin cured salmon effortlessly. The black mustard seeds were an inspired change from black pepper offering both nutty flavour and mustard heat rather than just pepper heat! It’s all in the quality of that salmon.

Charcoal Flame-Grilled Côte de Bœuf, Baled Marrow of Leg, Crispy Shallot Rings, Pickled Land Mushrooms, Broccoli Chutney, Blackened Merlot Jus
Be still my beating heart… Before this awesome plate of beefy loveliness was placed before us, we were asked if we would be happy for our meat to be served medium rare, and also that it would be served to share. This was when we started to get excited about what was coming!

Where to start… this was such a phenomenal tasting piece of beef. Started on a charcoal grill, the bark yielded unbelievable flavour, kicking off the malliard process and unlocking all that flavour potential in the marbling and aging. So perfectly pink, so so tender, layers of flavour and endlessly satisfying. The blackened merlot sauce was thick enough to glaze the meat adding extra umami. Crisp from shallots, zing from pickled but meaty mushrooms and an ingenious sweet broccoli chutney (broccoli still had plenty of bite – perfect!)

Frankly, the nicest piece of beef I have had in a long time. I love how the chef team@had taken the time to select an amazing prime ingredient at its peak and doing very little to it allowing it to stand by itself and take all the praise. It takes a confident chef to do that, to avoid over complicating something and running out the uniqueness that inspired a dish in the first place. We couldn’t finish it all, but insisted what was left was boxed up so we could take it away with us. Something this good should never be wasted! I want the recipe for that broccoli chutney, and if I only ate beef once a year from now on, this would be my beef dish of choice. So, so good! Bravo chef!

Dessert Buffet: Raspberry Macaroon, Chocolate Mousse, Honeycombe Pieces; Lemon Meringue Tartlet; Cheesecake with Rhubarb Gel
I’m not quite sure how anyone else managed to eat one whole plate of these to themselves, they did, but we didn’t! Everyone of these miniature desserts were a delight, it’s hard to know which I enjoyed most! Was it the chewyness of the macaron against the velvety texture of the chocolate mousse; or maybe the marshmallowy Italian meringue or the vanilla rich cheesecake?

Ah, hell, it was all so good!! We did our best to demolish as much as we could and finished the whole thing off with a dram of West Cork Distillery bourbon cask finished Irish Whiskey. Put a fork in me, I’m done! Only thing left is to walk the whole thing off around the estate grounds!

 Buddy seal of approval! WOOF!

ichigo ichie – the story of a once in a lifetime experience

Something magical happens when you sit down to dine with Takashi Miyazaki. It happened the first time I visited his eponymous restaurant, Miyazaki, on my birthday a couple of years ago, and it happened again last week when we sat at the Kappou counter of his new fine-dining restaurant ichigo ichie.

For me, this is what happens: first, the excitement. The thought of trying something that is a genuinely new experience. Secondly, the fear. The fear of chopsticks specifically, for nature saw it fit to provide me with thumbs that are worse than useless and render me unable to ever use chopsticks correctly.

Thirdly, you are transported. Just as I forgot where I was the first time I ate at Miyazaki, the meditation of noodles, broth and contemplative music sending me off far beyond the boundaries of Cork, so yet again within the cocoon of ichigo ichie, somewhere around the eighth course, did I notice I had transcended any physical place. Was I in Cork? I think so. But yet again I could have as easily been in Tokyo, Okinawa, London, New York…

The point is that when Takashi is crafting food into art for us to eat, he has the ability to transport from what you thought you knew, what you thought food could be, in a way so gentle that you barely even notice it is happening.

At the Kappou counter

But let me take you back to the beginning…

The excitement when word began to spread that Takashi was opening a fine dining Japanese restaurant in Cork was beyond palpable. When people spoke about it there was a frisson of electricity, a glint in the eye of anticipation, chatter thinly disguised as wanton gossip: Any news of when it is opening? When is the website going live? Have you seen the space? Have you spoken to Takashi about it at all? In all my years, never have I experienced a tautly strung eagerness around a restaurant opening as this one.

Three weeks before the opening, the online booking went live and a block of initial dates for April, May, June and July were released. To say I went “in like Flynn” is an understatement. My husband, Mr Flavour, was barely awake, one eye open battling a hangover as I burst into the room like a rambunctious child, phone and credit card in hand shouting Friday or Saturday repeatedly at him until he finally asked me to shut up and explain myself. We settled on the Saturday, 6.30pm, for the Kappou style sitting. Booking made, I left Mr Flavour to collapse back into bed to repair the damage I had inflicted upon his hangover.

There are three options to choose from when dining at ichigo ichie. Miyabi Kappou – or at the counter, five seats reserved for an up-close and personal dining experience watching Takashi create the dishes on the menu. Nagomi “Harmony Dining” seating 12 and situated in the middle of the restaurant and finally, Zen “Japanese Garden” at the front of the restaurant in a cool calm space flanked by a garden of white gravel, an arrangement of large slate coloured stones, bamboo and candles.

The décor is classic Japanese with a modern edge. Dark charcoal grey against a stark white floor; the Kappou counter gleaming in smooth blonde wood and Takashi in his Japanese chef whites at the head of it all, in total effortless command.

Creating Squid Noodles

After promptly knocking my chopsticks on the floor the moment we were walked to our seats, I decided I needed a drink to calm down. The drinks menu is illustrated by Takashi with dishes from the menu, an indication of how personal this restaurant is to him. I ordered a rather punchy Plum Sake which frankly was so delicious I ended up having, let us say, more than one.

Tofu, White Sesame, Rhubarb


The words ‘fine dining’ can conjure up thoughts of a staid and stiff experience firmly outside our comfort zone. But as soon as the dishes were presented to us, the sake flowed and the chat amongst the five Kappou diners started to liven up, it became obvious that the fine-dining element here was very much about the gastronomic experience and nothing at all to do with polished diner etiquette.

The menu is a Japanese tasting menu, known as Kaiseki, 12 courses in length and changing every six

Tuna and Salmon Nigiri, Soy Foam, Ginger

weeks to reflect the seasonality of the Irish and Japanese ingredients on the menu. Although the words and descriptions may seem unfamiliar, the flow is as you would expect a tasting menu to be: a series of main courses and side dishes flanked by an amuse bouche, sushi, starter selection, broths, fish and dessert. There is a definite flow of flavours building from delicate to powerful, through hits of intense saltiness, sweetness and layers of heart thumping umami.

It would be utterly pointless of me to try and explain each dish to you: how it tasted, the textures and aromas, the beauty of the presentation. But what I can say is that this goes down as one of my all-time

favourite dining experiences. I say experience rather than meal because this is what ichigo ichie is and what

Daikon, Brown Crab, Mitsuba, Ginger & Bonito Dashi

it does, for long after I have departed this restaurant what will remain are the indelible taste memories, laughing at the thought of Takashi walking around Douglas in the early hours of the morning collecting cherry blossom from the trees; admiring the carefully chosen pottery for each individual course, studying the Japanese calligraphy in Takashi’s own hand; even chatting with Ría about coffee and the space age toilet (you’ll know what I mean when you go there yourself!), and of course watching the Master himself at work.

The beauty of the Kappou counter is the proximity to the action. Somehow, Takashi must balance serving 25 people 12 courses of perfectly presented and flavoured food and chat to the five inquisitive diners at his counter. Watching Takashi work with his knife rhythmically slicing the squid into fine ribbons of noddles, or his movements almost tai chi like as he forms the sushi rice for the nigiri and then each plate served up to us with two hands, an almost imperceptible bow,  a smile and a lightening quick description of the dish: These are the practiced motions of someone who is consummately familiar with his art. To acknowledge that this was only the restaurants second day is unfathomable, as everything is flowing with metronomic constancy. 

Tuna, Squid Noodles, Monkf

It is hard to say with certainty what my favourite moments during the meal were as they were innumerate, but these few things have created taste memories that I will go back and relieve time and again:

  • The mackerel nigiri
  • The salted cherry blossom on top of the set asparagus curd
  • The ginger and bonito dashi broth served with the daikon, castletownbere brown crab and mitsuba
  • Those squid noodles with the quail egg yolk
  • Soy milk, chocolate, mochi rice cake, mocha and Jameson cask whiskey
Ox Tongue, Wild Garlic, Sansho Pepper, Yuzukosho & Onion Sauce

I asked Takashi if he was happy. For a brief moment he looked taken aback as if this was the first time being asked. But then a broad smile swept across his face, a deep exhalation of breath before saying that he was, very happy indeed.

ichigo ichie translates as “once in a lifetime” – an experience that diners may never have had before,

Chicken Thigh, Turbot Fin, Broad Bean, Egg & Dashi

and may not experience again. And although my plan is that this visit will not be the only one I ever make, I know this: the next time I do go the menu will be sufficiently different that I will indeed have another once in a lifetime experience.

Rice Bran, Aubergine, Purple Ninja Radish, Cucumber; Channelled Wrack, Carrot, Burdock, Shiitake & Dashi; Red Miso, Tofu, Chive & Dashi

But more than what the diner experiences, I cannot help but feel as though ichigo ichie is as much about Takashi’s own story and journey: His own once in a lifetime experience in bringing his unique approach to gastronomy finally to life. A chef is one of our last true journeyman trades: A product of years of study and learning, travelling, building on failures and successes alike. Takashi Miyazaki has taken all of that, all of those years, and wrapped it up into a gift given to us.

Soy Milk, Chocolate, Mochi Rice Cake, Mocha & Jameson Cask Whiskey

Kaiseki menu is a set menu priced at €95pp. Drinks and gratuity are extras.

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