On Monday we took a long day's drive north from County Kerry making stops at the magnificent Cliffs of Moher (where we had a fun lunch of Seafood Bisque & Irish Stew at a small pub called McGann's in Doolin, County Clare) and then visited the Aillwee Caves in The Burren before heading past Galway to the gorgeous little hamlet of Cong on the edge of Counties Mayo & Galway. Here lieth the magnificent Ashford Castle with parts dating back to the 13th century. Like so many other historic landmarks, it was refurbished by the Guinness family in the 19th century and now as a 5star luxury hotels has housed the likes of the Reagans, Brad Pitt and now us.
It is a magnificent baronial estate on Lough Corrib and we were very happy to settle into our cozy room overlooking the lake with a bit of time to rest before a true elegant dinner. Upon arrival Robert, who has been the George V maître d' for decades greeted us warmly as if we were regulars. A slight mixup in the number of diners was rectified, although Samuel said he would go to the room and get room service so we could dine alone; that didn't happen, and we were all much happier as well.
The grand room is full of chandeliers, silver food trolleys and formally attired staff, but the stuffiness of a Victorian establishment was nowhere to be seen; the staff were elegant, yet trained to be thoughtful and indeed friendly.
Robert asked for our cocktail choices and I was happy that they had my newly acquired favorite: Dingle Vodka, so I went in for another dirty Dingle Martini. Philip who was the sommelier arrived and announced our gin drinks, but we were confused. We joked that he needed to blame Robert, but they both rectified it instantly with replacement drinks; Sam's coke was correct.
As the amuse of Chinese Style Duck with Sweet Corn Foam & Custard arrived on a wooden slab in a shot glass with a Bacon Cracker, we knew this was going to be a good meal. Samuel was abit confused by the lengthy and intricate menu as the ingredients were confusing, but we talked him through it and then discussed the wines extensively with Philip who was more than helpful and accommodating, not to mention quite handsome. I suggested a half bottle of white and a full red, but that was hard as Will wanted fish and I wanted lamb. We talked about the house-owned vineyard in South Africa and settled on their Pinot Noir which Philip allowed us both to taste, even though it is not served by the glass!
The sparkling water here was Fior Uisca, which we now saw more often in the west, and was a bit fizzier than our preference, but still very good. Breads and butter arrived and it was hard to choose:
French baguette, Brioche with Lemon Oil, Irish Brown with honey & yogurt, Potato Rolls and a Blackseed/Sunflower Seed/Sesame Seed Flatbread with Flax--all served with a yummy seaweed butter. Decisions, decisions. Now I know why I gained 10 lbs. on this trip! Our first wine was a superb fine finish Chablis Saint Pierre 2012 from Albert which had the slightest citrus hints; the wine was served in large Riedel crystal with the Ashford Castle crest emblazoned on each glass.
I started with a magnificent Marinated Wild Pigeon in Cocoa Liqueur (it was not sweet at all, more like a mild mole) & Brassicaceae (mustard flowers) with essence of Chocolate "jelly," radish, cabbage, turnips, orange & cardamom vinaigrette. You can easily see how this menu would confuse anyone, let alone a 12-year old. We had to dissect every word, but no matter, the food was indeed spectacular.
Will had the Home Smoked Duck & White Asparagus with Summer Truffle Vinaigrette, White Asparagus "Blanc Manger" (think savory panna cotta), Hippo Tops and Brioche. I asked Will what Hippo Tops were and he had no clue, so they told us it was a type of watercress. Actually the staff were surprised we don't have it here in the States as it is common in the UK & Ireland...who knew?
Samuel had decided to forego the starters as nothing appealed to him and the mains tended to be huge. He chose the Skeaghanore Free Range Duck Breast & Foie Gras with Cherry "Gel," Pickled & Fresh Salsify, Bouchon POtatoes and Tonka Bean Jus and loved it all, but after a bite or two of the foie, offered us the rest, which we gladly accepted.
By now we had been served the amazing Pinot Noir 2012 from Bouchard Finlayson in Galpin Peak, South Africa which was smoky, yet not fruit forward like so many of the Oregon Pinots we love. It was a different take, and it was superb with both our main courses; kudos to Philip.
I chose the awesome Achill Island Blackface Lamb which was a Roast Loin & Pressed Shoulder with Aubergine Miso, Samphire, Oyster Leave and Seaweed Infused Jus. I actually learned the next day from a sweet saleslady in a store in the teeny town of Maam in Connemara that the blackface lamb is the decendent of sheep imported from Scotland and the term "lamb" strictly means a sheep of one year old or less-who knew? She actually grew up on a sheep farm. No matter, the dish was a treat in each and every way and the wine truly a brilliant pairing. Will chose the Wild Hake & Smoked Eel with Heritage Beets, Kale, Red Scallion, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Seared Gnocchi, so the wine was great for him as well since the smokiness of the eel paired sublimely with the smoke in the wine. We were all thrilled with our main courses, the meal and the way the evening turned out!
I have to note that the loo lights were odd here as they were triggered by movement, but you had to actually move into the room before they went on--creepy!
Will & I decided to do cheese and split a dessert as we had seen the elaborate cheese trolley numerous times and it was indeed calling to us.
Irish Farmhouse Cheeses we chose were served with homemade breads and biscuits as well as fruit gels of grape, apple and pear. The water biscuits were the best on earth and the rye crisp had no comparison.
We knew this might be our last cheese extravaganza so we returned to
St. Tola Goats with ash as we loved this so much so many times in so many different preparations
Durrus was another slightly intense cheese we came to love.
Mossfield Gouda was so creamy, nutty and rich like a great Old Amsterdam that we asked for a piece to bring up to Samuel, who had gone up to the room to retire. He loved it.
Carrygaline is a seaweed wrapped cheese that was novel and yummy.
Monterey Jack Corr was not your USA Monterey as this was a brilliant new farmhouse cheddar.
Cooleney was a runny Irish Brie that would compare to any French one
and another new cheese we fell in love with was the Bellingham Blue.
So sad we knew there night be little more of these divine cheese trays.
The dessert we split was an "Opalys" of White Chocolate Banana with irish Strawberry Jelly and frozen foam with White Peach Sorbet and Whipped Ganache, a truly brilliant concoction that won us over yet again with the intense fresh fruit flavors.
As if this was not enough mignardies arrived:
White Chocolate with Lemon Oil
White Chocolate with Lemon Oil
Financier with Cherry Gel & Lemon Curd
Dark Chocolate Mousse with Hazelnut
and another I forgot.....oh well. I can still see it sitting in front of me as I look down, knowing it will take weeks to take off the pounds so lovingly earned.