Savoring Ireland

06 May 2024

A culinary exploration at Anantara The Marker-Dublin 

By Katie McElveen

Returning from a trip to Ireland, friends typically rave about the remarkable scenery, the welcoming pub culture, the music, the history and, of course, the Guinness. But the food? Not so much.

My first trip to Ireland followed a similar course. I spent the first part of the week exploring Dublin's sights and the second tramping along shady trails in the countryside. I ate well but can't recall a remarkable meal.

My second trip was entirely different. This time, I stayed at Anantara The Marker-Dublin, where the culinary team, led by Executive Head Chef Gareth Mullins, has created a program designed to not only give guests a chance to taste the best of Ireland but, through a series of classes and field trips, explore it as well.

The program, called Spice Spoons, is a passion project for the Dublin-born Mullins. “Ireland produces some of the best food in the world but nobody knows it,” he laughs. “We have families who have been making cheese, smoking salmon and raising beef for generations. I created the menu at Forbes Street, our restaurant at The Marker, so I could introduce the world to the remarkably delicious things they're growing and making.”

Our first Spice Spoons lesson was how to construct a proper Irish coffee. Unlike the complicated, creamy sipper often served in America, true Irish coffee contains just four ingredients: Irish whisky, coffee, a single cube of sugar and heavy cream that's been whisked just enough so it floats atop the potent brew. The drink is sipped through the cream—no stirring or straws allowed.

The next day we set off early for Howth, an ancient fishing village about 30 minutes outside Dublin. Here, we watched seals bob peacefully in the harbor as they awaited handouts from returning fishermen before boarding a fishing boat of our own to explore the jade-green Irish Sea and the craggy coastline speckled with sea caves and dramatic rock formations. Then we had a behind-the-scenes tour of the fish-smoking facility at Baily & Kish, the family-owned company where Mullins sources smoked salmon for the restaurant. After lunch—proper fish and chips made with the local catch, a bit of smoked salmon and a bottle or two of local brew—we headed back to The Marker, where Mullins showed us how to make his mother's Irish soda bread.

Dinner that night at Forbes Street gave us a chance to sample not just Mullins' work but that of his Irish partners as well, including Flaggy Shore oysters, steaks from fifth-generation butcher John Stone (including one that's been dry-aged with Pearse Lyons whiskey) and cheeses from all over the country. The menu also features roasted King scallops with blood pudding and ravioli stuffed with Dublin Bay prawns. We washed it all down with wines from the “Irish Wine Geese,” a group of French wineries—think Barton & Gustier, Palmer and Hennessey—that, thanks to the 17th-century Jacobites, were founded by Irish immigrants to France.

Spice Spoons isn't the only way guests at Anantara The Marker Dublin can delve into Ireland's diverse cultural traditions. Equestrians can travel to Irish National Stud, in Kildare, to visit with thoroughbreds and, surprisingly, tour the adjacent Japanese garden, which was created between 1906 and 1910. There's also an opportunity to join the locals for their morning swim at Forty Foot, a chilly bay outside of Dublin. Said to enhance immunity, relieve muscle pain and reduce inflammation, the cold water is shockingly invigorating yet strangely addictive—once I'd gotten used to the cold, I didn't want to get out. Thankfully, the hotel provides towels, thermoses of hot coffee and gigantic robes to slip into as you emerge from the water.

Ironically, the hotel itself is a composite of Ireland's beauty: throughout the property, designers incorporated clever but beautifully rendered nods to Ireland's landscape, creating, for those who know where to look, a visual love letter to the Emerald Isle. The undulating portico, for instance, calls to mind the breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean; inside, in the lounge, strategically placed windows set against the structure make it feel as if you're dining under the water. There are also custom terrazzo floors done in hues that mimic the etched Burren of County Clare, carpeting woven to look like Dublin's cobbled streets and travertine in the gray of Irish granite. I didn't notice the subtle cant of the hallway leading to my room until someone mentioned that it was designed to represent the hundreds of Stonehenge-like megalithic monuments that dot Ireland. There's also a black pool in the spa—“Dubh Linn” means black pool in Gaelic—and a ceiling constructed from octagonal tiles that resemble the thousands of basalt pillars that comprise the
Giant's Causeway.

Located in Dublin's waterfront Docklands neighborhood, Anantara The Marker Dublin was constructed in 2013 and was fully renovated in 2023. The 187 rooms and suites are done in cool gray and ocean blue; bathrooms are fully clad Carrara marble. Photographs of fishermen—many from Howth—decorate the walls; soaps and shampoos are infused with botanicals from the Irish Sea. During the warmer months, a rooftop bar offers views of downtown Dublin and, in the distance, the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. It's a perfect place to contemplate the many facets of Ireland.

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