Castle Murray House Hotel is situated off the beaten track in Dunkineely, midway between Donegal Town and Killybegs. Marguerite and her team have run the boutique style hotel and restaurant for the past 11 years and have done everything possible to make the experience a good one. The aspect is to the front, with the bedrooms, restaurant, bar and seating area taking full advantage of the breath taking views of McSwyne Bay and the ruins of the old castle
The dining room is an L-shaped room divided into two distinctive areas; as you enter into the main dining room it is very old style with exposed beams and brick work, a raised open log fire for colder days and an antique dresser which is home to cutlery and anything else that may be required through service. Further on is a much newer room with timber floors, panelled ceilings and a large piano which I am sure has seen much tinkling of the ivories. The entire room has large picture windows creating a bright airy feel and again making full use of the surroundings and leads out onto a decked area surrounded by manicured gardens.
Starting with pre-dinner drinks in the bar we were presented with the set menu for the evening; 5 courses for €47 which from Dublin prices seemed like good value, but for Donegal is at the top end so already expectations were raised as orders were taken prior to entering the dining room.
Seafood featured heavily on the choices which given the location was no surprise, and being a fish lover I was delighted. Starters included St. John’s Point crab risotto, Inver Bay oysters or a vegetarian option of aubergine, confit tomato and buffalo mozzarella strudel. A selection of nine mains offered Donegal lamb, Irish Angus sirloin, scallops with tiger prawns or a fresh egg tagliatelle parcel, pan fried turbot or the McSwynes Bay blue lobster (supplement) we had passed in the tank at the entrance. A bottle of sparkling water and a selection of still warm bread were brought to the table
The wine list was extensive starting at €24 for their house selection giving you a choice of the French Croix des Vents or Chilean Puna Snipe to €68 for the Gevrey Chambertin burgundy. Most hovered around the early €30’s, and there are also half bottles ranging from €14 to €26 and a selection by the glass at €5.10. We ordered a bottle of the Chilean house sauvignon blanc Puna Snipe, which is a decent house wine, and something we come across fairly regularly.
An amuse bouche started the first of the five courses, a salmon and dill mousse presented on a bellini pancake with lemon mayonnaise, it was very light and full of flavour, just the type of flavour popping morsel that an amuse bouche should be. Before we even got to Castle Murray I had been told about their prawns and monkfish in garlic butter so it was easy for me to decide, while my husband opted for the smoked chicken, goat’s cheese & tarragon croquettes. Both were great choices but mine won out, served in a dish brought from France with either a chunk of monkfish or a large prawn in each hole and loads of garlic butter in the base which I duly soaked up with the fresh breads that came to the table earlier.
For mains I had the special which was wild salmon pan fried in a langoustine reduction with tomato & chive dressing; it was absolutely spectacular, so fresh and a totally different flavour to what you would normally be served when you see salmon on the menu, and the prawns that appeared in the reduction were a nice surprise. Fred had ordered the grilled John Dory fillets which came with grilled baby gem lettuce and spring onion crab. Sides that accompanied were perfectly cooked seasonal vegetables and creamed potatoes, and both dishes were perfectly fishy and fresh.
Now to dessert with six choices including mascarpone & white chocolate tart, warm Belgian chocolate cake, banana and dark rum panacotta or an Irish & French cheese board. We chose selection of desserts, the perfect choice when you want a bit everything. There was a small piece of the banana & dark rum panna cotta, wild garden mint parfait and the warm Belgian chocolate cake; it was a well balanced selection and we finished with coffee and petit fours accompanied.
Given the setting and the level of food and service, they have set the bar very high indeed, and exceeded our raised expectations. Castle Murray is a destination and we passed one of our best evenings away in a long time.