Gregan's Castle

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.

Amuse Bouche:

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.


Third Course:

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.


Petit Fours:

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!

Beef & Guinness Stew with Irish Brown Bread


So if I haven't mentioned it before, I lived in Ireland for close to 9 years and in that time became a great lover of all things Irish, with the cuisine being no exception. So in honour of St. Patrick's day, I'm treating myself to some hearty Irish goodness inspired by my great friends in Ireland.

Please note, Beef  & Guinness Stew is NOT Irish Stew.  Irish Stew uses lamb and a stock base, and is more soup like. While I'm a huge fan of classic Irish Stew,  I'm quite fond of the Beef & Guinness stew for its hearty richness.

Irish Soda Bread. You will find both white and brown versions in Ireland. In the areas where I lived, brown soda or simply Irish Brown Bread was more popular. Butter is in my opinion the essential accompaniment. Soup and a slice of this bread. It's all you need for a delicious and filling lunch.


Beef & Guinness Stew

My recipe is not very exact but I'll do my best to put it down as best I can.

1 lb stewing beef

1 pint Guinness

2 cups beef stock

1-2 carrots

1/2 large onion

2 stalks celery

6-8 mushrooms

Bouquet Garni of Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley

Roll the meat in seasoned flour, brown in small batches in a large casserole.  Set aside.

Add vegetables to casserole and coat with pan juices, softening for about 5-10 minutes.  Add the meat and juices back to the pan. Slowly add the pint of Guinness a little at a time, to build a rich gravy.  Cover with stock.

Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours in a slow oven.  (That'd be an expression I learned in Ireland for not very hot - say 250 - 300 F)


Irish Brown Soda Bread

This recipe comes courtesy of my friend Oonagh (pronounced Oooh-NAH).  It is the easiest thing in the world to make and takes less than 10 mins to mix. (The hardest part is to line the tin). It's handy to have a kitchen scales for this recipe as the quantities are given 'Irish style' as weight, not cups like we use in Canada.

1. Line a bread tin with wax paper or baking parchment

2. Mix these dry ingredients together: 1 lb whole-wheat flour 2 oz Oat Bran 2 oz Wheat Germ 2 oz steel-cut oats 2 tsp Salt 1 1/2 tsp Baking Soda 1 tsp Baking Powder

3. In a separate bowl mix these wet ingredients: 1 TBSP Brown Sugar 1 Egg 1 TBSP OIL

4. Add Wet ingredients to Dry Mixture.

5. Add in 500 ml (roughly 1 pint) Buttermilk and mix lightly and quickly with spoon or fingers and place mixture in baking tin.

6. Bake at 400 F for 1/2 hour and then reduce heat to 350 F and bake for another 1/2 hour.

To serve, I'm partial to cold butter on the bread once cooled rather than melted butter. Try it and let me know.



OPTIONS / NOTES: I sometimes throw in a bunch of flax seed to the dry ingredients which makes it quite nice. Other note - in Ireland they have something called coarse meal flour which I have had no success finding in North America.  You can experiment by reducing the flour quantity slightly and topping up to the 1 lb measurement with wheat bran or additional wheat germ. The basic recipe works just fine though. When I'm making this I mix the dry ingredients the night before and then quickly add wet ingredients in the morning for fresh bread at breakfast.



Happy St. Patrick's Day. Beannachtaí na féile pádraig. And to all my friends back in Ireland, thinking of you and missing you much!