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.
Covid- 19 has brought changes throughout society, but they are managing them here with the discretion and style one expects from a five star establishment of this quality. The changes are there, but so subtly done. Staff wears visors, but the welcome and smile is still visible, and after a while you forget. Each room comes with a care pack of sanitisers and masks, and it’s at the guests discretion what they choose to do. Overall people were unfailingly polite and we all kept a respectful distance,
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 panelling, coving and marble fireplaces are of course in situ, while walls have been recovered with antique velour. On a sunny Spring evening the sunlight pours in and sparkles off the chandeliers and glasses, heightening the beauty of the setting.
The restaurant offers an excellent A la Carte menu, with a vegetarian twin, and dishes can be paired with wine. On this evening we were feeling abstemious, so the lady ordered a glass of Albarinho to match her starter and a Pinot Noir for the main, while I stuck to the sparkling water and a tasty treat of a virgin Mojito, which was replenished more than once by the excellent staff.
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.
Starters brought us lobster and salmon cannelloni, which arrived as pretty as a picture with vibrant greens courtesy of leeks and peas. Fresh delicate pasta sheets carefully rolled and filled with sweet seafood, all set off with lobster bisque was simply excellent. The better, prettier half was equally happy with her Doonbeg crab meat salad. Crabmeat is one of those things it’s hard to get right. The crab is usually overpowered, or over pasteurised. This almost snow white delicacy suffered neither of these transgressions, and the flavour was allowed to shine with the delicate addition of new potatoes, avocado and a tangy lemon puree.
We left the sea behind for our main courses, which brought a roast rump of Clare lamb for the lady. Irish lamb seems to change as regularly as accents. Find some local lamb from a particular place, and the diet changes the flavour. Around these parts the sheep are hardy rock dwellers, and eat heathers and grasses, and the flavour is more gamey. This meltingly tender creation came with ratatouille and aubergine caviar no less, with shallot and a serious tarragon sauce.
I had the beef, and this came as a duo of perfectly pink fillet and a braised short rib, well matched with cavalo nero, cabbage and carrot, with a classic bordelaise sauce. Sometimes it’s hard to beat classic cooking and in a dining room as beautiful as this it is fitting.
We intended to skip dessert and make do with the excellent petit fours they serve with the tea and coffee, but some genius had put a brown bread soufflé with rhubarb and ginger compote and vanilla pod ice cream on the menu, which obviously made that impossible. Sure then we thought we may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb and had the cheese selection as well; 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.
After the last few months of solitude it is a real treat to eat and stay in such a beautiful place, and we returned in the morning to the beautiful walled garden to enjoy the sun before going underground for a relaxing and invigorating massage in the rather beautiful spa.
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 remain 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.