Europe Hotel and Resort is just outside of Killarney, on the banks of Lough Lein. Paolo was there last year, he loved it and it got best hotel of 2011 in his review of the year. They have just done more refurbishment, and the flagship Panorama restaurant has received a serious make-over. Any excuse to stay here is always welcome, so needless to say an expedition was organised immediately.
There's quite a long avenue leading up to the hotel through very beautifully maintained gardens. Then we saw the hotel, and, to be honest, I was a little taken aback -- it looked functionally plain. We parked and went to the check-in desk and then we saw the view. What we'd seen driving in was the back of the hotel; the front of it has an enchanting view over the lower lake with a 180° panorama that is simply stunning. For best results, stand at the lakeside, then look back and you see the hotel as it was meant to be seen. There's the two-storey spa building that's built into the land as it falls towards the lake, and between the hotel and lake are more gardens, which became very prettily lit as dusk settled in.
There are two main dining options, the less formal Terrace Brasserie, or the flag ship Panorama. In the case of the latter, rarely has a restaurant been more aptly named. It occupies a first floor space encased in glass, offering the Panorama in question. The room itself is very large, and has a minimalist décor, which works very well as the outside spills through the windows, offering movie screen sized images of the rugged beauty outside.
The restaurant is only opened for two weeks, so the menu is a work in progress, and staff is still new. There’s plenty to like though, with a well balanced selection of dishes. Starters include grilled scallops with raspberry vinaigrette, a duo of Gravalax and smoked salmon, prawn tail risotto and a classic Parma ham and melon combo. There is also a choice of soups, and oysters are served fresh or Rockefeller style. Mains include a medallion of salmon in apple and ginger broth or fresh lobster, while the committed carnivores are catered for with loin of Kerry lamb,Barbary duck breast with celeriac gratin or an old favourite, a traditional Chateaubriand for two.
The wine list is well chosen and decently priced, until you get up to the serious reds, then it’s simply wonderful. For instance, there are two Haut Brions - an ’83 and ’85 - listed at under €200; you’d be lucky to pick them up on eBay at that price! Perhaps another time, some Chateaubriand and Haut Brion.
This time out the food scientist enjoyed a trio of goat’s cheese, while her main of loin of Kerry lamb was perfectly cooked and a herb crust was delicious. My starter of suckling pig with quail’s egg was less successful, but this struck me as a dish in progress, and once perfected I think will be wonderful, the combination is potentially superb. A fine piece of whole Dover sole was next, expertly filleted at the table, simply served was perfectly cooked, while a shared bottle of Louis Latour Pouilly Fuse was a wonderful choice. A slice of chocolate cake brought up the rear and we de-camped to the beautiful lounge next door for some music.
The next day brought the wonder of a swim in the pool, which stretches form inside the thermal suite out into the great kerry outdoors, so you can look over the lake from the safety of the thermal pool, and convince yourself you’re actually swimming in the lake, without the fear of frostbite. There was a choice of dining options, so lunch in the Terrace Brasserie or brunch in the Spa café was settled by a look at the Terrace menu. A homemade burger with handcut chips was brilliant, while the food scientist enjoyed a homemade Tortellini with mushroom and truffle.
The menu in the Terrace bears some comment, as you can have a sandwich or Panini for around €8, or a chilli con carne or other light bite for around €15, while the mains rarely break €20. In a five star hotel is I think this value is almost unheard of. This level of accessibility probably explains why The Europe is so popular with locals, as well as guests. In the evenings there’s a queue to get into the Terrace; better testament than any other of its appeal.
The Europe is exceptional; the views are undoubtedly among the best in the country, while the rooms are out of this world. Service is always excellent, and staff are warm and friendly.
The Terrace is a stunning casual dining option in beautiful surrounding and with the comfiest chairs, and young chef Niall Byrne, who has just taken over has a great room on which to make his mark. The executive head chef of the whole show is Alex Nahke, and he has a blank canvas in the Panorama, which has the makings of a great dining room.
I am surprised that The Europe isn’t more famous; a Dingle restaurateur told me it’s her favourite place, while a friend from Killarney pops in for coffee three times a week because ‘it’s so lovely just to sit there.’ Definitely one of the ultimate spots for a break; with good weather it would be one of the most beautiful places on Earth, while even without that elusive sunshine, beautiful surroundings and attentive staff ensure you’ll be more pampered than Paris Hilton’s pooch. We’ll be back.
**The Spa area here, ESPA, is apparently (daughters recommendation) amazing, with great staff and beautiful surroundings. Ultimate feel good experience.