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 six 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 grazing menu has been designed by Jonathan and the team over the past twelve months and is essentially a tasting menu but with more choice. There are eight sections, with a choice of two mains and two desserts meaning you have had seven courses on completion.
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.
First up was a selection of breads, including a hazelnut, Guinness & treacle bread, a rosemary roll and the most amazing wild mushroom Danish, which is the best bread I have had since Dylan McGrath was making his confections in Mint.
First up was an amuse bouche of swordfish tartare with chilli, samphire & olive, a real fusion of flavours, a great taste of what was to follow. After that we were bombarded with flavours and textures. Scallops with lime and basil puree, with bacon & watercress; the depth of flavour was amazing, while the sweet scallops were perfect.
Next was the foie gras trifle, this was the dish of the evening for me, the contrast between the foie gras the apple sorbet worked so well and left you wanting more. Gazpacho with a cucumber foam was a light course which went perfectly before you went onto the mains.
There was a choice of Duck or Monkfish tail: I went with the fish while Fred opted for the duck. The duck was roasted over lavender and hay and served with maple syrup turnips while the monktail was wrapped in ham and delicately presented with peas and beans, decorated with dauphine scraps.
The professionalism of the staff meant the evening went smoothly and every dish was explained in depth, showing the passion for what they do. Everything that makes its way to the table has been carefully selected and as best as possible is showcasing local produce.
The other tables were filled with tourists from mainland Europe and also a local party celebrating a big birthday, and the banter between the tables belies the ‘posh’ setting, there is an informality here that is infectious. Of course, everybody watching the dishes as they were being served added to the atmosphere and intrigue of a great evening, and in fairness Jonathan’s creations fairly pop off the plate.
Pre-Dessert brings us onto one of my favourite parts of any meal having a bit of a sweet tooth. There was a choice of 72% chocolate or Irish strawberries and cream, we chose both. For all chocaholics you will be in second heaven with a plate full of milk chocolate, white chocolate and pistachio cream with praline ice-cream, yummy, yummy, yummy… Irish strawberries and cream is a modern way of combining traditional flavours with a mix of jellies, sorbets and vanilla cream.
Finishing up with a tea and a Baileys coffee which were presented with the most special box of sweets and macaroons, I was disappointed that I hadn’t left a gap for these as they looked wonderful but unfortunately had to be left behind.
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 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.