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Lough Eske Castle Hotel, Cedars Restaurant, Donegal.

Lough eske

Lough Eske Castle Hotel, Donegal Town, Co. Donegal

.+353 (0)74 9725100

Price: € 120-200 (for two with wine)

Hours: Lunch and dinner seven days

Review

It’s hard to imagine that in these days of austerity anyone would do again what was done to Lough Eske Castle. The castle was built in the 1860s in the Victorian Tudor style, a grand turreted building on the shores of Lough Eske. In 1939 it was destroyed by fire and it remained a ruin until recently, when it was restored and extended to become the hotel of today. Even on the briefest of viewings it’s obvious that a lot of money has been lavished on this building and the restoration has been sensitively done.

A long driveway takes you through parkland and woodland alongside the lough until you arrive at the castle door. A grand staircase is the first thing you see and although the whole interior is new, you still get a sense of what the original castle was like. The dining room is part of the new extension, it’s spacious and well-designed and it has views overlooking the parkland.

I was there with Jonathan Irvine and Deirdre Walsh, this time to launch the Jack and Jill appeal in the northwest, and were looking forward to dinner. The à la carte menu is priced somewhat less than you’d expect in a five star hotel, starters bracketing €10 and main courses all around €30, with the exception of a risotto at €20.

I also liked the wine list for two reasons; firstly there’s a large choice of wines by the glass, which in these days of restricted drinking is a good thing, and secondly because the mark-up is less than the norm, so you can find wines on the list for under €30. From it we chose a bottle of Petit Chablis from Alain Geoffroy at €36.

We started with scallops for Deirdre, a clam and mussel risotto for Jonathan and the Tiger prawns for me. The scallops came with a pea purée and were flavoured with smoked bacon and truffle oil, making them into a very good dish. The clam and mussel risotto was very nicely presented, had been coloured with squid ink and was finished off with a crab froth. My prawns were simply done in a froth of garlic and lemon butter and were very good indeed.

The main courses were just as successful. Between us we had a rack of Donegal lamb, roasted turbot and roasted monkfish. One of things that Donegal has to offer is great seafood, something I discovered a couple of years ago. Nowhere in the county is far from the sea, so there is easy access to good and fresh fish and a ready supply of crab and lobsters. In this restaurant those excellent raw ingredients were turned into two very good dishes, the turbot served with a Meunière sauce, ceps and shitake jus and the monkfish served with a Mediterranean vegetable bouillon flavoured with basil.

This was a meal of the highest calibre and there was the added pleasure of knowing you didn’t need to be in the capital to enjoy this level of cuisine. And that’s something else we can thank the Celtic Tiger for, you can now get to Donegal by car in about three and a half hours from Dublin thanks to the new roads. It means that Donegal isn’t the impossibly remote place it once was and a weekend beak there is now is perfectly possible.

Espressos all round brought our bill to €186, good value I thought for what we’d eaten.
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