Life

Eating Out: Self-assuredly grand Castle Grove Country House Hotel fluffs its roasties

Castle Grove Country House Hotel, the kind of place you can just sink into and let your worries ease away. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Dominic Kearney

Castle Grove Country House Hotel

Ramelton Road

Letterkenny

Co Donegal

Tel: +353 74 915 1118

castlegrove.com

LET me ask you a question. What do you expect from a traditional roast dinner? I bet the first thing out of your mouth (and possibly into your mouth, too) is roast potatoes.

And that would especially be the case if the Sunday lunch segment of the hotel's website actually mentions “fluffy roast potatoes”. So if you only got mash, you'd be a bit miffed, wouldn't you? Surprised, at least. (It also says you can complete the meal with a “delicious, hand-crafted desert”, mind, but typos can hapen to anyone and I certainly wasn't expecting a carefully cooked Kalahari and custard for afters).

Now I know that the absence of roast potatoes ranks quite high on the scale of first world problems, but it's worth mentioning, I'd say, particularly as it wasn't the only surprising, miffing aspect of our lunch at Castle Grove.

Much of my dissatisfaction stems from the fact that many aspects of our experience there were so good. For one thing, this is an absolutely beautiful hotel. Tucked down a long, long, tapering drive off the road between Letterkenny and Ramelton, Castle Grove is a Georgian house of effortless and self-assured grandeur.

It's beautifully decorated and furnished, but in no sense forbidding. The staff are wonderful too, so welcoming and attentive. It's the kind of place you can just sink into and let your worries ease away. And it was made for a day like this – chilly and damp, with concrete clouds slabbed over a Swilly as still and glassy as a painting.

The menu has a similar sturdy charm, with reassuringly familiar items dominating the odd new entry. We started with the mushroom soup, which was creamy thick, well-seasoned and earthy. The salad of cos lettuce and smoked bacon was crisp and salty, and the croutons light and crunchy.

I liked the goat cheese bon bons best – little spheres of savoury cheese combining well with the sweet beetroot and gentle hazelnut. One of the bon bons had little or no cheese in it, however, which was a letdown.

Tradition dominated with the mains. The turkey, ham, and stuffing combination was a nice blend of flavours, if maybe a little dry. The pork belly was beautiful – the moist meat beneath the well-rendered fat pulled away with ease, and was deliciously succulent and tender.

And the sirloin was quite simply the best beef I've ever tasted. It was so well-cooked. The meat cut with minimum pressure from the knife and was juicy and full of flavour. And the red wine jus was so rich and glossy! The gravy that came with the other meats was good, but this jus was sensational.

But… not only were there no roast potatoes, the mash that came with the mains was lumpy and dry, and the vegetables were something of a mixed bag. Some of the carrots and parsnips were lovely, but others were just uncuttable. How can you get the beef and pork so right, and slip up with the easy bits?

The story didn't change too much when it came to the puddings. The trifle was lovely, but nothing out of this world, while the crumble was a weak effort. The apple itself was good, but the good stopped there. For one thing, it was barely lukewarm. Then the crumble was far too finely ground, so there were no textured chunks of pastry which started with a crunch and then went soft. And the apple and the topping seemed to have been cooked separately, the crumble added just before it left the kitchen.

However, the chocolate cake was delicious – rich, dark, sophisticated – and both the praline and the vanilla ice creams were terrific, not too sweet, creamy, and full of natural flavour.

It was all a little frustrating, to be honest, come the end. Having had such high hopes, despite some wonderful food, we left with the feeling that it wasn't as good as it should have been.

THE BILL

(For three)

Mushroom soup

Crispy goat cheese bon bons, beetroot, hazelnut

Smoked bacon, parmesan, and cos lettuce salad

Slow roasted turkey crown, ham, stuffing, cranberries

Confit of pork belly, squash, apple

Roast sirloin of Irish beef, celeriac, onion, red wine jus

Dark chocolate cake, praline ice cream

Sherry trifle

Apple crumble, vanilla ice cream

Three course Sunday lunch at €27 per person

Total: €83.60 (£74.36)

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