Belleek Castle is getting a makeover, and the restaurant is continuing to improve with their philosophy of classic and imaginative cooking, using well sourced wild and farmed ingredients, to combine a depth of flavour with the traditions of the castle.
Belleek Castle is situated on 1000 acres of woodland, just outside Ballina in Co. Mayo, on the banks of the river Moy. Approached up a long drive through the woods, this small but perfectly formed castle appears across a lawn, romantic and splendid in its isolation. Romantic break, gourmet treat and a hell of a lot of fun, Belleek Castle is the antithesis of corporate hospitality; it’s more Errol Flynn than Padraic Flynn and is utterly charming for it.
Paul Doran and his lovely partner Maya Nikolaeva are your hosts in this small hotel and restaurant that is as individual as the couple who run it. Once the ancestral home of the Earl of Arran, Belleek was saved from state sponsored destruction by Paul’s father Marshall in 1964. He changed it into a small boutique hotel and it’s been doing its own low-key thing ever since.
Inside, Belleek is full of collected treasure; wonderful tapestries adorn the walls, the Armada Bar is a re-creation of a Captains wardroom of the Spanish Armada, and constructed of timbers salvaged from the ‘Castile Squadron’ that foundered on the Mayo coast four centuries ago.
Below in the dungeon there is a museum quality collection of fossils that would have even the more fervent Creationist scratching their head, while alongside is one of the biggest private collections of armour assembled anywhere today. They’re not big on rules here, so you actually get to touch these items, which in the case of a 100 million year old sharks tooth, is a singular delight.
Food is served in baronial style, with hand made tables and fine chairs. The menu reflects the surroundings; locally sourced ingredients, carefully chosen and treated with respect and not a little flair. Chef Stephen Lenahan and his team are growing in confidence, and the food is more precise and displays an elusive depth of flavour, with some flights of imagination and flair.
They’re big on tasting menus, so each day there is a market menu offering five courses, or the Gourmet menu which has eight. If you really feel you can’t face that much, wimp out and go A la Carte, but you can do that anytime, so go with the flow and enjoy. We first ate here a year back, and the quality of the food has increased since then, and we liked it the first time around.
First up was a selection of west coast fish, the highlight here a sea trout Gravalax, served more cube of sushi style, but very good. A globe of deep friend monkfish was a perfect little fish cake and grilled John Dory was perfectly cooked. Next came some shellfish with samphire, where a char-grilled langoustine packed a real flavour punch.
The soup course came next and we were presented with a small amount -though perfect for an eight course menu - of intense, reduced potato and leek soup with a light foam. The chard leek gave it almost a roasted flavour and it was very good indeed.
For me the duck duo which came next was the highlight, mainly down to a little tart, that looked like a chocolate tart but was savoury and intense and a lot of fun. Mayo lamb made it’s appearance in a duet of turf smoked and braised shank, and this local lamb it hard to beat.
We next enjoyed some Cashel Blue cheese, before a zingy and tarty lemon confection blew our taste buds away. Petit Four brought up the rear, and we retired to the drawing room.
Paul has a well chosen wine list, but if you’re in the mood, ask about some of the bottles in the private collection for a real treat. Rumour has it there is a Petrus lying around somewhere..
Belleek Castle is quirky, informal and has a lovely homely feel. It’s more like being a weekend guest at a friend’s country estate, and with lovely walks through the woods, fishing just down the fields and lazing around in libraries and whatnot, perfect relaxation.
They are in the process of renovating all the guestrooms, so it's becoming even better. It occurs to me that this would be a wonderful place for a group get together, but in the meantime, go research the location and report back. A hidden gem.