My current trip to Ireland is winding to an end. It's been great to spend some time with friends here and visit all the old places. But it's also been fantastic to find a few new ones as well. Gregan's Castle Hotel is located near Ballyvaughan in the Burren area of County Clare. The hotel itself is very comfortable, quiet and secluded, the kind of place you would go to to escape or hide. I've known of this place for years but never ever been there. Recently it seems they've brought their food to a whole new level and in 2010, chef Mickael Viljanen was named Bridgestone Chef of the Year. So as this was literally in our backyard from our base in Liscannor, Co. Clare, we set out to have a look. This is the view from the top of the Corkscrew hill at the edge of the Burren in County Clare. You can see the limestone area of the Burren in the distance. Corkscrew hill is not for the meek and if you are driving, don't take any chances - designated driver a must!
The hotel has beautiful gardens and our table overlooking the gardens, and with views of the sea and the Burren was in a lovely light filled room. Dinner started without delay as we quickly decided on the tasting menu option. We chose 6 courses with paired wines but 9 and 12 course options are also available as well as an á la carte option.
These were simply darling, and were described to us as follows.
Pig Tail Bon Bon consisting of Black pudding and hazelnut mayo, Smoked Eel, Beetroot Meringue, Baked Potato Jelly, Rooster Liver Mousse. These were very beautifully presented and definitely set the scene for the type of cuisine we were going to enjoy. I think the meringue was the most interesting, it was light and melt in your mouth good and the slight salty taste of the fish combining with the sweetness of the beet. The jelly was very interesting and tasted of the skin of a baked potato but we all wondered if we would have been able to identify it had we not been told what it was. The liver was great too, mostly from a textural point of view as the crisp it was served on was beautifully delicate and light.
First Course: Foie Gras, honeycomb, pear and almond textures, pain d'épice for the ladies.
The gentleman chose Raw milk with lovage, artichoke, rye and morteau sausage.
Second Course: I chose skate with beetroot, fricassée of peas, lobster, girolles mushrooms and chicken oyster, caper shoot and raisin dressing, riesling velouté. The mushrooms were divine, the skate almost undercooked - but perfect - so beautiful and delicate.
For my dining companions, scallop served with truffle, cauliflower, hazelnut, wood sorrell, smoked apple, leek and ash. (The leek was charred slightly). We all had a taste of the smoked apple which was amazing. Very bright.
At this point in the meal, we'd been discussing Obama's recent visit to Ireland and how the Prime Minister of Ireland had got into trouble by using parts of Obama's Inauguration Speech without attributing it to the man himself. Then the pigeon arrived and to be honest, it looked terrifyingly rare. My friend exclaimed: Well, choose hope over fear! and it became our mantra.
The ladies: squab pigeon, new season carrots, date, vadouvan. This dish was served in two parts, with the main plate including the apparently rare breast, liver and heart of the pigeon. The breast was delicious and once I got over the sushi like look of it, I was pretty happy with the flavour. We guessed it had probably been cooked sous vide so there was no colouring. The highlights were the beautiful new season carrots with flavours of anise and the beautiful mushrooms, which looked to me like enoki. This dish literally burst with flavour! I was not familiar with vadouvan, but it is sort of a mixture of caramelized onions, garlic and Indian flavours - I think cardamom, cumin and ginger were probably present. Delicious!
The legs of the pigeon were served in a pan over burnt hay which imparted the smoky flavour to the meat. The smell was that first time you lit a bonfire smell. I enjoyed it although it alarmed some of the diners at the next table who started to wonder "what was burning?"
The gentleman: veal sweetbread, madeira, peach, macadamia nut, fennel, liquorice. A very pretty presentation.
Me: cherry, celery sorbet, goats milk, yogurt. No picture of this sadly. It was divine and had various textures and flavours. I always enjoy having lots to choose from so this was right up my alley. The highlight was the celery sorbet which was the perfect complement to the cherry flavour.
My companions: coffee deserts with caramel, green apple paired with champagne flutes of Murphy's stout.
As if we hadn't had enough, out came the petit fours, with traditional macarons, jellies and some mini-magnums - baby ice creams.
The entire meal was really bright and refreshing and despite the number of courses, I felt I had been able to enjoy and taste each one. It's a great special occasion place. The hotel and bar look lovely and I'm sure it would be an enjoyable stay as well if you wanted to make a weekend of it.
A very special thanks to O & J for treating me!