Wednesday 26 July 2017

Talbot Hotel, Wexford, Ireland: a Review

The letter-box rattled and something fell on the mat. My housemate went downstairs to find an invitation to celebrate our friends', Joe & Breda, golden wedding anniversary - that is fifty years together - in Wexford in the "Sunny South-East" of Ireland. I had only ever visited Dublin several years previously for a raucous hen-party around Temple Bar. My housemate, had also only visited Dublin, less than a month previously to obtain a new position. So we were both up for a visit to see something of Eire outside the capital.

We checked on for availability at the hotel where the party was to be held and were thankful to find rooms were available. The Talbot Hotel is classified as four-star and on the website has a "very good" rating of 8.4. All the photographs looked lovely. The reviewers seemed happy with the hotel. Alas, given our experiences, we could not in all honesty recommend the accommodation in this hotel to anyone. We had an awful experience and told reception as well as showing them the photographs we had taken. All they could apparently do is sympathise and explain that we were in one of the booking-com rooms which were not up to the same standard as the rest of the hotel's rooms. We were appalled, as you might gather.

The Room

When booking we had made it very clear that one of us is allergic to feathers and the other is asthmatic: for these reasons we needed feather-free bedding and a room that had not had flowers in it. On arrival it seemed that our request had been ignored. However, lovely receptionist Ellen, immediately arranged for housekeeping to change.

We were rather astonished that what we were given was a blanket (image above) wrapped in a duvet-cover rather than a hypoallergenic, summer-weight duvet. Recall Talbot Hotel is meant to be four-star.

From the listing for our type of room one can see from the list above what facilities the room was supposed to include.

From our snaps (three images above), it should be clear that whilst there was indeed an air-conditioning unit in the room, which even had power, the control button had long since died, the hand-control was missing and the contraption had not been usable for quite some time. As there was no other means of heating the room, it must be rather chilly in the winter months.

The room with the windows closed was like a sauna. Both my housemate and I were left constantly pouring with sweat whenever in the room. My companion slept under the duvet cover that had surrounded the blanket. I slept under a towel. I say slept: the mattress was the most bumpy thing I have slept on since being a university student. British, cheap chain-hotels at least have Hypnos or other quality mattresses. I managed two hours slumber the first night and the second three separate hours.

The other factor that needs to be taken into account is the constantly roaring-rumbling, twenty-four hour per day, extractor outside our window. If we opened our windows, the room was fresh and reached a pleasant temperature, but the noise-levels were far from tranquil and too disturbing to be able to concentrate on anything. When one closed the windows the room became hot & sticky, but even then the rumbling could still be heard (felt?) via the insufficiently insulated windows (walls?). Ellen, the receptionist, advised that the extractor was supposed to be turned off at midnight. After complaining, the second night it was eventually switched off, to be replaced by the high-pitched whirring of the vending-machine on the other side of our wall. Another incessant, unchanging noise.

Looking out of the window was not to be advised. As can be seen from the image above, not exactly a view, more a dumping ground. I should have disguised this area with some planting that did not require too much tending. Such might also have reduced some of the excess noise.

Over all rating: terrible.

The Restaurant

Note that the restaurant, along with the other hotel eatery, is open to the public not just hotel residents. Whilst there, we saw several locals dining.

Part of our booking included a special offer dinner for two for an extra €35 in total. There was no explanation of what this included, but we knew we should be hungry by the time we reached the hotel, and expected that a four-star hotel would not be serving up gruel.

Due to delay by Aer Lingus, we arrived much later than anticipated. Reception advised us to check in after dinner and to go directly to the Oyster Lane Restaurant, at the southern end of the hotel's edifice. Ellen rang ahead to let them know we were coming and as we arrived the maître d', Maryana, was awaiting our arrival. She showed us to table. The chairs were very comfortable (much more so than those of the Renault Mégane we had hired from SixT!) and padded in all the right places.

The meal-deal included a starter, main, dessert and hot beverage for the both of us. Drinks extra. We ordered G&T's to start - something to refresh us and quench our thirsts. Maryana did not know if any Irish gins were available, so we plumbed for what was offered, Gordan's - something we would never do back home. (We later determined that Ballast Bank Bar & Grill at the north end of the building had a whole menu of gins including Irish ones.) Our cocktails did exactly what was needed. I ordered a bottle of Prosecco to go with our mains. It transpired it was only a Prosecco frizzante rather than the better spumante (higher perlage) and was DOC not DOCG. At €30 the hotel was really profiteering from a relatively cheap wine, approximately more than double local retail (not trade) prices. However, whilst the texture on the palate was poor, the flavour was flowery with a slight violet hint. Rather unusual, but nonetheless quite pleasant.

My starter was fish pâté, wrapped in cucumber slices, served with a finely chopped vegetable salsa and a beetroot coulis. This was an incredibly colourful on the eye dish. The pâté itself had a mild flavour, with no specific fish flavour apparent. The cucumber slices were a cool and welcome addition, but the skin should have been removed (as this is the part that causes folk to have issues!). I have to say that for me the beetroot coulis was the highlight of the plate. Delicious and pretty.

Both my companion and myself selected the beef dinner for our mains. Maryana advised us that as there had been a wedding on that day the cut was sirloin. Oh my, what fabulously succulent flesh and beautifully pink. Fabulous. This came wrapped around, for me the most disgusting mashed potato, although my companion was content to eat it. For some reason mine tasted somewhat metallic to me - perhaps it had clashed with some other foodstuff. The new potatoes glistened appetisingly in their buttery sheen, but were slightly over cooked and had just started dropping. Furthermore, they had a slight earthy taste, which of itself was not unpleasant but neither was it pleasant. The carrots were a deep mandarin orange and were really sweet - quite delicious. Whatever else came with the dish made insufficient impact for me to recall any details. Chef (apparently a lady as the adjective "she" was used) made ordinary gravy for me as I could not consume the actual sauce due to it containing garlic. To be fair, I am not a fan of gravy, excepting the clear juices my Grandma used to pour over meat when I was a child. My Mater made her's with Bisto - absolutely disgusting - and I have never gotten over this muck. So when I say that chef's gravy was okay, the reader can understand that, from me, that is a sort of praise.

We were so full after our mains - yes, the portions are really large - that we changed what we were going to have for dessert. Instead of apple crumble, I selected berry fruit pana cotta. Very good - do try it! My friend opted for what was presumably homemade ice-cream. It had the oddest, dry texture. However, it was icy and cold, so eventually all slithered down his throat.

The food is better than pub-grub, but is not haute cuisine. This said, we both should not be deterred from dining here again. And hopefully next time, we should have the time to digest our courses much more slowly and thus better appreciate chef's offerings.

Over all rating: definitely worth trying.

The Leisure Centre ("Spa")

The Talbot Quay Leisure Centre as labelled within the hotel and on googlemaps, also called Talbot Fitness on the hotel's website, is used regularly by my friends who reside in Wexford. If one stays at the hotel or even the apartments next-door-but-one which belong to the same hotel group, one may use the facilities without incurring any extra costs.

One can walk through the hotel or enter externally. There are changing rooms where lockers for one's possessions can be found. Padlocks, towels and swimming caps can be loaned from the centre's reception. The pool is heated but is not too warm. We met up with friends for some swimming, games, fun and lots of chin-wagging (chatting) (this being Ireland!). I also tried the jacuzzi which was rather too hot for me, so I did not remain in it long. However, the jets therein were really powerful and very relaxing. My companion also tried the steam-room or the sauna (one was closed) whilst I read a gratis newspaper in a chair by the pool.

Over all rating: a facility worth using.

The Slaney Suite

The main purpose of our visit to Wexford was to celebrate fifty years of marriage of our Wexfordian chums, Breda & Joe. The venue was spotless. The Décor was subdued grand. Table-settings, formal and perfect (see image below). The staff friendly and flexible - they wheeled in a whole extra table due to the number of unexpected guests who attended. Chef (a redheaded chap this time, as he popped in to see how matters were going with the buffet) presented us with a fine choice of comestibles. Due to my food allergy, I ended up with a cold, veggie option: bean salad, coleslaw, tomatoes & salad leaves with soda bread & butter. I enjoyed every last mouthful and the bean salad was surprisingly tasty. Once the main buffet was cleared, platters of a quartet of desserts were served. I enjoyed three of the four. The only exception was the chocolate cake, which did not really taste of cocoa. My companion was happy to wolf down an extra portion of sweetness, so it did not go to waste!

One could not complain about anything at the party venue.

Over all rating: excellent.

In conclusion

Talbot Hotel's staff, such as Martin the porter, go out of their way to be helpful and friendly. The facilities the hotel offers are good to excellent. Let down only by the terrible quality of the rooms and beds.

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