This is a new hotel.
The last time I saw it, it was a building site. The old hotel was being replaced by a modern everything. I remember being sceptical and bothered about the passing away of character, the homogenisation West Cork.
On Saturday morning, the weather was so dense on the road out of Cork that we nearly turned back. What was the point of going west to Schull if you couldn’t see it?
Fortunately it cleared up. We even went on the boat to Cape Clear Island for the afternoon. But I’ll leave the story of how ill the Wiffe was on the boat to another time.
This is going to be about food and an extraordinary young man. (I never found out his name.)
Fresh from the sea spray, Grace, Wiffe and I went eating in the Harbour View hotel bar. Saturday evening, each had an appetite. We ordered: hamburger & chips, butternut squash risotto, Guinness & beef pie, apple juice, half bottle of Fleurie, and a pint of Guinness.
Grace’s first hamburger was tasteless, according to the Wiffe… There was enough risotto for three people: too wet and the flavour shallow. But it was the pie that caused the drama. Enormous, well presented (a circle of pastry beautifully browned sitting on top of a bowl fit for Paul O’Connell), and tough.
The flavour was good. The meat was good. All it needed was about two hours more cooking to soften it up. We gave the meal a good talking. We speculated about the kitchen. So when the young man, who’d welcomed us to the table with flourish and impressive warmth, came by and asked ‘How is everything?’, I gave it to him.
I didn’t want to damn the kitchen. My guess was that the cook was fresh out of catering school, and in a hurry: the pie was late on the stove. My hypothesis was that the kitchen had ambition and promise: it was not a lost cause. I might return because I’d been impressed with how clean everything was, and the enormous bed in our room.
With understatement I said what I thought of the pie (the Wiffe said nothing about her risotto; I knew she’d leave most of it). He looked about 23 and listened. He offered to bring me another. I smiled as if that was a bit of a joke (but, the meat would have been a bit more tender, so he was right to offer, and I was wrong to decline).
Five minutes later he brought the bill. He charged me nothing for the pie. Nothing. A 100% discount. As if you get your money back unless you are fully satisfied.
I felt overwhelmed. This is not typical of my experience in Ireland. It felt exceptional and impressive. I almost insisted he take something for the meal - after all, there was some good body, flavour and presentation. Instead I did my best to give him complete & balanced feedback, including the suggestion that the portion would be more attractive if it were smaller. The chef might learn from the comments. I wanted to return to find out. By giving a refund he ensured I’d be back.
When it comes to food, it is easy to avoid the place in future. Businesses lose customers without ever knowing why. Customer feedback is what drives continuous improvement, I say.
But, if you go to Schull, stay in the Harbour View Hotel, with its fine swimming pool, gym (unsampled), sauna & steam room. Eat in the bar, and let me know if the beef pie has improved. That young man inspired me with confidence; I bet it’ll be much better.