With ever-increasing demands on leading hotels to reward loyalty and attract new clients, some properties are hosting innovative, intimate events that combine dinner, drinks and entertainment in the company of a noted celebrity.
In doing so, they create a feel-good factor, additional public relations and marketing value, generate new business, expand their database of influencers and highlight their new facilities and services.
A case in point is this week’s enjoyable concert-cum-conversation-cum-dinner at the 4-star Shandon Hotel & Spa in picturesque Donegal on the Wild Atlantic Way in northwestern Ireland, which has recently opened a fine dining restaurant, ‘Marbles.’
Under the guidance of general manager, Carolynne Harrison, the hotel invited well-known singer-songwriter-musician Brian Kennedy for an event combining not only a drinks reception and four-course dinner but a relaxed, personal evening with the performer who – as well as singing some of his most successful songs – answered guests’ questions about his life and career.
Upon arrival, we enjoyed an informal gin and tonic drinks reception in an open space on the ground floor lobby area with panoramic views over the rugged Irish coastline far below. The ballroom where the main event took place itself was immaculately arranged with starch white linens and finely-printed menus. Service was both friendly and efficient with more than seven servers working the floor. At one stage, after requesting an extra serving of the kitchen’s delicious peppercorn sauce for my sirloin steak, my server arrived so fast, we joked she must have wheels for feet.
Table sizes varied, from smaller ones for couples to larger, seating groups of six. They were also well placed through the room, allowing easy access for guests to the dance floor. A convivial buzz of conversation spread quickly with a genuine sense of warmth and informality.
Kudos go to chef Anthony Finn and his team who prepared a varied menu comprising a choice of four starters including the hotel’s own delicately home-smoked salmon and a savory spiced carrot and chickpea soup with Guinness bread baked on site and a similar number of mains, ranging from roast supreme of Irish chicken and pan-fried fillet of hake to prime steak. A potato gnocchi dish with vegetable ratatouille, basil pesto and parmesan shavings catered to non-meat eaters.
A tropical fruit sorbet between courses helped cleanse the palate and an assiette of miniature desserts consisting of warm chocolate and hazelnut brownie, strawberry cheesecake and salted caramel ice-cream satisfied sweet-tooth cravings, with delicious light and dark chocolate balls served with tea and coffee as tantalizing extras.
Belfast-born Kennedy was a well-chosen host for the evening.
Not only has the 52-year-old enjoyed a wealth of hit songs over several decades in both Ireland and the UK but has also performed with other well-known international artists such as Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Buckley, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker and was a featured singer in Ireland’s most successful stage show, ‘Riverdance.’
Aside from his alluring falsetto voice, passionate lyric-writing ability and prowess on guitar, Kennedy is also an excellent raconteur, a skill he aptly displayed – roving around the stage, mike in hand – by warmly inviting his audience to ask him any questions “no subject excluded.” In this way, a personal connection developed between singer and listener that added an extra dimension to the evening’s pleasure.
Guests learned about some of his favorite women performers (Sinead O’Connor, Dolores Keane and Irish Traveller and banjo player Margaret Barry); his best friends – two ladies from Donegal; and even how he has managed to stay young-looking and fit.
Known for his superb rendering of soft ballads, his choice of songs ranged from the traditional Irish air, ‘Carrickfergus’ and ‘Killaloe’ about lost love, from his album ‘Get On With Your Short Life,’ to his hymn-like version of the Morrison hit ‘Brown-Eyed Girl,’ ‘Crazy Love’ from the 1994 movie ‘When A Man Loves A Woman;’ and his inspiring interpretation of ‘You Raise Me Up’ composed by Irish-Norwegian duo ‘Secret Garden.’
This was Kennedy’s second appearance at the Shandon Hotel & Spa and the rousing reception he received indicates he’ll be back soon.