The Lodge at Ashford Castle has gone through some changes over the last few years. It's now at the top of it's game and recently recognsed in the top ten hotels in the world by Conde nast Traveller awards.One thing that hasn't changed is chef Jonathan Keane’s food; it's still interesting, inventive and surprising, and it just keeps getting better.
We first met JK some years ago, when he was cooking in Westport. He quickly made a name for himself, and was head hunted to run the operation here about eight years ago. Local produce, fresh herbs, surprising combinations and some style are the order of the day. Having visited several times the experience continues to get better, and just when you think the bar can’t be raised any higher you are proven wrong as the team work tirelessly to ensure this is the case.
The rooms are luxurious, and have gone through further transformation to make your stay even more comfortable and special. A walk over to the castle and through the beautiful grounds is a must, and on a mild October evening was magical.
The Lodge was originally the estate manager’s house for Ashford, back when it was owned by the Guinness family. The interior is very tastefully decorated with lush green tones, set off by fine wooden floors and only the best of furniture, artwork and beautiful chandeliers. There are some fine examples of period furniture, and also some modern pieces which are counter intuitive, but work beautifully. The rooms are very contemporary, and many have feature wallpaper and statement pieces of furniture in contemporary designs.
Wilde’s restaurant is the fine dining option, located on the first floor of the property. The dining room is elegantly decorated and takes full advantage of the views over the quay and lake. There are three interconnecting rooms, which are beautifully proportioned, and dark red comfortable chairs are a nice addition against the crisp white linen, sparkling glasses and cutlery.
The wine list is well put together, and with over a hundred fine choices give yourself time to study the selection, ranging in price anywhere from €31 for a French Rose d’Anjou La Grille to €133 for a very special Savigny les Beaune 1er Cru. There are also many available both by the glass and as half bottles. We chose a bottle of one of my favourites, the Albarino Eidosela which is a clean and bright wine which goes well with most dishes and well priced at €44. With the recent opening of their new cocktail bar, when it was suggested we try a signature cocktail we ceased the opportunity, it was superb with a solidified lime juice caviar it was a dish in itself.
They have moved slightly away from the tasting menu of previous years and are now offering a menu of discovery, which is a well chosen a la carte of three courses, with four choices for each course, and some extra morsels thrown in.
First up was a selection of breads, including a hazelnut, Guinness & treacle soda, a rosemary roll and the most amazing wild mushroom Danish, which was possibly the best bread I have ever had..
First up was an amuse bouche of lamb with mint and yogurt dip in a cabbage crisp, a great taste of what was to follow. For the first proper course there was a choice of scallop with the roe flavoured in bacon fat, wild oyster mushroom served with sea grass, truffle and parmesan or Jonathan’s take on a trifle which was layers of foie gras, blackberry, wood sorrel and ginger.
I chose the pickled mackerel which came with a horseradish yogurt and apple compote while Fred had the cured beef, fresh cheese, tomato and a wheatgrass soup, and apart from the great flavours, it was the contrast of textures were what made every dish special.
When we got to main course the choices offered seafood with a wild halibut or cod, and meat with a lamb dish; duck or a vegetarian option.
I went with the wild halibut served on a bed of bacon and cabbage and a tempura oyster on the side, and the saltiness of the bacon & cabbage complimented the fish perfectly. Fred had the lamb which was marinated in sheeps milk and cooked to order, and came served on turnip and peas, this a a hearty rustic dish, again with great flavours.
Pre-Dessert brought a sorbet of wood sorrel, which was exceptionally refreshing. There was a choice of four desserts with chocolate, banana & peanut mousse to an elderflower and vanilla mousse with almond ice cream. I had the white chocolate, mango and passion fruit served with biscuit whilst Fred had the sable biscuit served with buttermilk ice cream Both were delicious and were a perfect conclusion to an excellent meal.
We did however linger on for an startlingly good round or irish coffees, made with Teeling whiskey, and of course this came with more delicious sweets in the form of petit fours. These have been a staple in the Lodge for years, and they are always inventive and delicious and have been known to accompany us on the journey home when we couldn’t find room for the too good to leave delicacies.
The Lodge at Ashford is beautiful, a more splendid retreat is hard to imagine. Add in some of the most exciting cooking happening in Ireland and it’s an unbeatable combination. Treat yourself, and remember your little furry friend, is more than welcome
With all this in mind it is no wonder they have 5 awards under their belt this year including Best Emerging Irish Cuisine with the RAI, Exclusive Venue of the Year with Weddings Online and Voted Number 4 Hotel in Ireland and the United Kingdom with Condé Nast Traveller Readers’ Choice Awards as well as voted number 3 in top places to work for with the Sunday Times, explaining why all the staff are so great and passionate about what they do.