Glittering occasion at pop-up restaurant at Bantry House
MAYBE it was Richard Corrigan, maybe it was the fact that Channel 4 was there filming for Country House Rescue, or maybe it was the fact that it was West Cork's first ever pop-up restaurant that made the Bantry House event such a winner.
I had the good fortune to be seated next to two wonderfully erudite young women, one a restaurateur from Cork, the other a fashion events manager from London, both of whom were thoroughly engaging.
In fact, it became such an interesting gabfest that the food, on occasion, took second place and that's saying something when there is succulent lobster, beautifully dressed prawns, and glistening oysters on the plate in front of you.
They, like a lot of the people present, were complete foodies. They, like a lot of the people present, were Richard Corrigan fans - some having followed him assiduously on his many TV programmes (my favourite being his masterful but judicious role on Great British Menu) and some who respect him immensely for his outspoken views on the need to develop and sustain the highest standards in all types of food production.
The spacious hall in the converted East Stables of Bantry House, with its high ceilings and stone walls, was the perfect location for a pop-up restaurant because where there are 100 or 200 people gathered in the name of gastronomic excellence you are going to have a lot of talking, so you really do need good acoustics.
People talked about the impressive seafood smorgasbord - plentiful, colourful and all locally sourced - on each of the large round tables, all elegantly covered in crisp white linen cloths, with equally elegantly dressed chairs, as befitting a banquet.
People talked about West Cork as if it were a place of pilgrimage for food lovers, and it was just as well that the comments about the different restaurants and artisan food producers were all good because chances were that the owner or producer was sitting just a table or two away.
Food is a universal language: take the girl from London, for instance. She said 'dinner' is her social life; while the Cork restaurateur - who can manage 48 hours in London four times a year - was able to trade stories with her about restaurants they both have been to, but the rest of us only get to see on telly.
It all sounds terribly privileged but choosing a good meal over new clothes, or a bad souvenir, is their way of rewarding themselves for all the hard work they put in during the daily 9am to 5pm, or, more accurately, the 6.30am to 'late finish.' Besides, the new thinking is very much about 'collecting memories, not things.'
Cork, Kerry and Bantry restaurateurs turned up to support this celebration of seafood and the Shellswell-White family really could not have been more gracious or welcoming. Sophie, who now manages the estate, was the perfect hostess, but she had a lot of help from her partner Josh, her brother Edward, and her mother Brigitte.
While sipping champagne at a pre-dinner reception in Bantry House, the fabulous Calvinists, and friends, rocked out in a very mellow way in the library. Swanning around the elegantly furnished room, champagne flute in hand, with nice crackling noises coming from the huge log fire was worth the ticket price alone.
Pop-up restaurants, like pop-up shops, are all rather new. It's like flash mobbing for those of a certain age and stage in life. In the case of Bantry House, who will forget the small, elegant procession to the stable block, or the sight of the braziers all aglow in the courtyard?
This Country House Rescue programme will appear on TV - sometime in June or July - but in the meantime the Channel 4 team will have a job editing out all the shots of the famously shy Irish, who were seen ducking behind the wisteria to avoid the long lens of the camera. They'll also have to be inventive when showing the dinner conversations because the clatter of conversation dropped to a polite murmur when the furry sound mikes appeared overhead.
The company was gregarious, but not gregarious enough to do or say anything that would warrant a boisterous appearance on Country House Rescue - the programme that features the delightfully bossy Ruth Watson, a woman who knows exactly what the owners need to do to improve their business and market themselves.
In that respect, Bantry House did well, very well - people will be talking about this event for quite some time to come.
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