Dromoland Castle is one of Ireland’s finest 5-Star resorts and is only two hours from Dublin, situated just outside the town of Newmarket on Fergus in Co Clare.
As you pass through the stately gates of Dromoland you enter a world of lush parklands, perfectly manicured golf course, the shimmer of the lakes and of course the castle as it emerges in all its grandeur.
Recent years have seen Dromoland complete a €20 million refurbishment which saw all areas of the property upgraded and finished to the highest standards. Architects, designers and owners worked together to cleverly and sympathetically upgrade and improve the facilities, being mindful of the history of this beautiful and historic building and its 330 acre estate.
We were staying over and were given the beautiful Thomond Suite, which is in one of the octagonal turrets and is spread over two sumptuous floors, The bathroom is fabulous, and a contemporary four poster bed, large sitting room and exquisite finishes make this a room that it’s almost a shame to leave, even for the prospect of dinner in the Earl of Thomond restaurant.
Executive Head Chef David Mc Cann has created a classic yet simple menu all based on locally sourced ingredients; farmhouse cheeses, game from the estate, Irish beef and lamb from local farmers and fresh fish from the west coast. There are also some multi-cultural influences and embracing new food trends.
The restaurant is a fine dining room with high ceilings and splendid chandeliers, wall sized mirrors and heavy drapes. Many of the original features including oak paneling, coving and marble fireplaces are of course in situ, while walls have been recovered with antique velour. On a sunny May evening the sunlight pours in and sparkles off the chandeliers and glasses, heightening the beauty of the setting.
The restaurant offers two dinner options; the eight course tasting menu priced at €85 and the A la Carte. Several dishes appear on both, but I find it hard to pass a well designed tasting menu and this was a particularly good one. There are wine pairings with each course, or you can order one or two glasses as desired, which is what we did, as we were up early the next morning. Sparkling water and a glass of Pinot Gris to be followed by a Pinot Noir and we were drink ready and enjoying some fabulous cheese and onion mini rolls from the kitchen. These were ridiculously good, and I had to stop myself from having more.
First up was the amuse bouche, a Galway Bay oyster with a Vietnamese dressing of lime and coriander, with crispy shallots adding texture. I do like an oyster, and this iteration was particularly good, i am a big fan of some of the eastern influences permeating the upper echelons of modern Irish cooking.
Cured organic salmon was dainty and delicate and avocado mousse, and a ginger and soy dressing was perfectly balanced, This was followed with a perfect piece of pork belly’ crisp on top and melting beneath, with a flavoured jus that set off little taste explosions. We then returned to the sea with a slice of au pointe monkfish with cauliflower and a curry foam sauce, which had a perfect little onion bhaji on the side of the plate.
I suppose this brings us just past the half way point and it is worth thinking about tasting menus. Balance is almost as important as brilliance, and getting the portions, flavours, textures and variations is a skill in itself. Too much and you run out of steam, incongruous selections of flavours and it all falls flat. This was all perfectly judged, and beautifully presented by a friendly and knowledgeable team, with cloches and flourishes, but nothing over the top or over egged.
A sweet and sour cherry sorbet was the perfect palate cleanser and the star dish of Burren lamb served perfectly pink was a triump. After this we were on the home straight with a ridiculously light chocolate mousse cut with a fruit centre followed by a selection of Irish cheese with Milleen’s, Cashel Blue and St. Tola’s goat’s cheese.
Petit fours and coffee finished us off, and we had a very pleasant chat with manager Shay about our favourite restaurants and a bit of industry gossip regarding openings, and one or two surprising closures.
The next moring after a fabulous breakfast we returned to the beautiful walled garden to enjoy the sun before going underground for a relaxing and invigorating massage in the rather beautiful spa. We didn't have time to check out the pool, but that's for another visit.
We Irish have become quite partial to weekend breaks and surprisingly we were perhaps the only home-grown couple there; the rest of the guests were mostly American. Drormoland is pushing the boat out a bit for a getaway, but this is the stuff of which real memories are made, and a stay here will rermain with you long after the cost is forgotten. The late Paolo Tullio always differentiated between cost and value for money; if you feel the need to escape the mundane, and enjoy a bit of splendour, Dromoland has it in spades.