Twelve Steps…

20th May 2010
Pól Ó Conghaile

I’ve heard so much about the Twelve Hotel in Bearna, Co. Galway, I was excited to finally (and belatedly) get the chance to visit.

Sitting on a corner site in the village, a short taxi ride outside of Galway City, it’s a big proposition for a little town, but one that seems to be paying off.

I arrived late, but found the kitchen still open in West. Everything is prepared “a la minute,” I read, allowing chef Cedric Bottarlini to cook “to the depths of his soul”. Erm, ok then. I know the hotel opened in 2006, but haven’t we toned it down since then?

A starter of air-dried lamb (€7.50) got me in the zone, however. Dried for eight months by local supplier, James McGeogh, the dish was served in several thin overlapping slices, and the meat came with a delicious twang – just salty and smoky enough to really get my appetite going. Yum.

Some two-thirds of the Twelve’s revenue comes from its food and beverage operations, manager Fergus O’Halloran told me. Complementing West, the Pins bar serves a casual menu, and you’ll find foodie touches throughout – from coeliac-friendly dishes to Belgian beers in the minibars.

The hotel also does a supper club on Saturday nights, runs a bakery next door at street level, and is this weekend (May 22-23) running a ‘Summerlicious’ special where regular guests (alerted by the hotel’s ezine) get to meet suppliers like McGeogh in the flesh at a mini-farmers’ market.

Divesting himself of his trendy specs, O’Halloran took me on a tour of the hotel (its manager is also the Twelve’s sommelier, it turns out, and he came to Bearna after 13 years in some of the best hotels in Toronto).

O’Halloran –  who struck me as a sinewy and passionate – clearly has a grá for food and drink. And he’d want to, because it’s a ballsy hotel that operates by making one-third of its revenue off of rooms – even if we are in a recession.

The Twelve is described as a boutique hotel, a pretty knackered term by now, but it seems apt here. I like the dark walnuts, strong floral print wallpapers, the gilded mirrors, leather headboards and mood lighting. It doesn’t go over the top, and it hasn’t sailed out of date within 10 minutes of opening.

What I don’t like so much are the large, sparse corridors leading to the rooms. These err on the side of emptiness, giving a chilly atmosphere – a feeling exacerbated by the decision to lean rather than hang the large mirrors left at intervals. Adding a splash of furnishings would give a much warmer, luxe feel, I think.

As with Harvey’s Point in Co. Donegal, the sole treatment room is a converted bedroom, something that always strikes me as shoe-horned. Skip the ‘Petit Spa’ and plug instead for something much more creative (and tempting): the wild seaweed baths that can be arranged for your own bathroom.

Interestingly, 26 of the 48 rooms are suites. That’s a high (or ambitious) ratio to service, but when you see the wraparound bars, jacuzzis and spacious living rooms, you’ll be tempted to upgrade.

My main course at West was the chef’s cut of slow-braised beef (€21.50), served with a side portion of vegetables. It was tasty, and the Malbec recommended by the waiter fitted like a glove. It was served in a lovely, generous glass too.

I didn’t get to overnight, but did grab a pint of Guinness (€3.80) in the Pins bar afterwards. A friendly barman, a trad band and a lively crowd of locals, after-dinner drinkers and a couple of hen parties gave the impression that those wraparound bars would get a good test drive later.

I was sorely tempted to join them…