Since opening in 2008, the Cliff House Hotel has worked on the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
And in all honesty, there was nothing to fix. With those dreamy sea views, a top-notch spa, and a restaurant that nabbed a Michelin star in its first two years, this little tardis on the cliffs of Ardmore ticked all the boxes.
But to stay the best, you have to get things done. And over the past few years, there has been a huge shift not just in the hotel, but in the Cliff brand itself. There was the arrival of Aimsir at Cliff at Lyons, the creation of The Well at Cliff spa products and the sad closure of Dublin’s Cliff Townhouse.
At the original Ardmore hotel, we saw the launch of a (super stylish) beach house and chalet, the Pantry summer food truck and the Urchin beach bar, where you can enjoy activities like SUP and sea kayaking with Ardmore Adventures. There is also a very exciting new face in the kitchen (more on that later…).
But with all these novelties, has the Cliff House kept its intoxicating charm? I inquired to find out…
Arrival & location
When it comes to a grand arrival, I don’t think any Irish hotel can beat the Cliff House.
From the moment you step into the lobby, the glorious panorama of Ardmore Bay stares down at you from the giant multi-story windows. Indeed, it is difficult to pay attention to the recording, when you have only one desire: to contemplate the sea.
And it’s a theme that continues wherever you are, whether you’re walking along the cliff path with the brackish smell of the ocean in the air, or snuggling up in your room in a fluffy bathrobe. You couldn’t ask for better. 9/10
Service & styling
While the whole place has an undeniable sense of style, the spa is a winner and is home to arguably the best hotel pool in the country, the endless edges of the water drifting seamlessly into the sea beyond. And if the Jacuzzi is great, the outdoor baths are even better, where you can soak up algae, peat or aromatherapy oils (€50 pp).
I had the Cliff Custom Swedish Massage (€95), a dream treatment using their own vegetable oils. If you have a choice, opt for a treatment room facing the sea — a massage in a light-filled space is surprisingly relaxing. 9/10
There seems to be a recurring trend when it comes to hotel room decorating (am I just sick of unrelenting greys?). But rooms at the Cliff House have a cottage vibe without being too twee.
Think woolen throws on the bed and wingtip armchairs upholstered in Donegal tweed, perched just beside giant windows. That’s the other big selling point here – all rooms face the sea, and while the larger suites get giant balconies, I like that the sea view is accessible to all.
A recent refresh gave the rooms a well-deserved zhuzh, but my bathroom was the real winner, with a giant oversized tub and dual rain showers perched right next to the (semi-frosted) window, so that you can watch the sea while you wash your hair. Personally, I would like to see products from their own range supplied, rather than miniature bottles from a French brand.
I loved the giant coffee machine that ground beans on demand, although I couldn’t get it to work every time. However, my success rate with hotel room coffee machines is… less than stellar. 8/10
With a Michelin star under its belt, the House Restaurant has always been the main attraction. But the appointment of new executive chef, Ian Doyle (who worked in the multi-Michelin-starred Noma and Oaxen Krog), has raised the bar immeasurably. He’s created a menu of delicately beautiful dishes that sing with unusual local ingredients (he’s also an avid picker).
At this stage, there is nothing revolutionary in using local and seasonal products. But what’s innovative is Doyle’s ingenuity when it comes to combining surprising textures and flavors – think green strawberries with smoked cod roe and smoky spruce fudge that will haunt you forever. never my dreams.
It’s exactly the refreshment this restaurant needed, and the eight-course tasting menu (€130) is worth every penny.
What’s particularly neat is their new drinks pairing (€85), curated by head sommelier Alexandra Raitaneva, which pairs each course with a combination of wines, local cider and cocktails rather than wines alone . The climax ? An opening cocktail of Bertha’s Revenge milk gin, tomato water and seaweed bitters that really made the clam and oyster canapes sing.
Those standards are maintained at breakfast, with platters of hot pastries, freshly squeezed orange juice, and an excellent a la carte menu — my crispy bacon and honey Youghal waffle was perfect. 9.5/10
Most people drift to the main restaurant and bar for a drink, but the new House Lounge (formerly the private dining space) is a dream, with plush seating in seafoam green and a cozy fire.
Visit Ardmore Pottery and Gallery in the village, where you can pick up pieces from their unique range of pottery, as well as cashmere beanies and herringbone throws.
The bottom line
If you didn’t look too closely, you wouldn’t notice many changes at the Cliff House. But the best reinventions are the most subtle. Everything that made the hotel great is still there, just a little better.
The real winner here is the new restaurant – the food that comes out of the kitchen is really on a whole new level. If you’re looking for a dinner that will truly wow you, this is the place to be.
B&B from €289 for two. Nicola was a hotel guest. cliffhousehotel.ie