The Kitchen in the castle….Dromoland Castle
A true legend of Irish Tourism celebrates its 50th year in business as a hotel
Sometimes hotels are preceded by their reputations, and not always do they live up to them. I always knew that there was something special about Dromoland Castle but never having been there I couldn’t put a finger on what it was.
Now I know! Last weekend on the hottest weekend of the year I made my first trip ever to Dromoland. The castle is celebrating its 50th year in business as a hotel this year so no better time to visit.
The castle is steeped in history. The building as it is was completed in 1835 adding on to an existing tower house built in the early 15th or 16th century. While Dromoland later became the residence of eight generations of the O’Brien family early records indicate the area was also occupied by other Gaelic families such as the McInerney Family during the 16th century. Fast forward to 1962 Donough O’Brien sold the castle and grounds because of financial issues. He built Thomond House on a hill overlooking the castle and lived there till he died in 1968. That house is now occupied by the 18th Baron Inchiquin. For more history on the castle click here.
Many famous people have checked into Dromoland Castle and I’m sure like me didn’t want to leave, the list includes Ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush Jnr, Bono, Richard Branson, The Beatles, Pierce Brosnan, Nelson Mandela and Quentin Tarantino. The book even tells you at the front what some of these people ate while they were there.
History aside, I came to meet with Executive Chef at the Castle David McCann. As part of the 50th birthday celebrations the castle has published its own cookbook. A confessed cookbook fanatic I was intrigued by this! The book is only available to guests at the hotel or online on the hotels own website www.dromoland.ie
For clients arriving in Shannon we use Karl King Executive Travel. We have used Karl for many years and he operates a very professional service. On arrival at the castle I was shown to my room by Nico. With a lovely cool colour scheme of soft greens and blues its immediately relaxing and spacious. Like any ex-hotel employee on arrival in any room in any hotel I go looking at everything! It was all top class! I then headed back downstairs to meet with Chef.
Chef. McCann has been with the hotel since 1995 and overlooks the food operations in The Earl of Thomond Restaurant in the main hotel, The Fig Tree in the Golf Club, Functions in the Brian Boru centre and the Inn at Dromoland its sister hotel. A busy man! I was very grateful that he was able to spend some time with me.
Like many people, myself included David ended up in the hospitality business almost by accident because he wasn’t sure after leaving school what to do. Thankfully he found his calling and so started a great career!
Trained by CERT (a now defunct training body specifically for the hospitality business), David then went on to work with some of Dublin’s best hotels and restaurants to gain some classical cuisine training before moving on to London where he further enhanced this with time in The Mirabelle and the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. Many Irish chefs who were trained in the 80’s had to move away to get work but ultimately Ireland has benefited from this as these chefs gained new skills and returned home with great ideas and abilities. This has led to an explosion of interest in the Irish food scene. Finally we have a reputation as a Food Island and we have moved away from a country that used to boil and cook the hell out of everything!
David came to Dromoland in 1995 and has seen many changes and developments in the ensuing years. He oversees and apprentice scheme at the castle for chefs; combing college with intensive training. One of his apprentices has just opened a place on Sloane street in London.
While restaurants change and are trendsetters to some degree in the food business hotels and their restaurants are a different kettle of fish as we say! Dromoland is still very much a classical restaurant which has to satisfy the demand of the discerning visitor to the castle. There is still an element of tourists wanting Irish Stew and corned beef and cabbage but travellers are more knowledgeable and will expect food in this 5* hotel to be the same as they’d get in any 5* restaurant in their own country. Tourism Ireland David says are doing a great job in promoting Irish food with the assistance of other chefs such as Neven Maguire.
The star of the restaurant and Irish food in general really is the local produce, in Ireland we have a great larder and if you ask anyone including David what is great about Irish food the answer you will get is the cheeses, the dairy produce and most definitely the meat which is justifiably world renowned.When he’s not on duty David likes to cook for himself and his family good quick food such as risottos which are a family favourite and enjoy a glass of red wine.
After I left Chef I wandered around the grounds of the hotel briefly and to take some photos in daylight. That evening the sun was so bright it was really like a ball of fire in the sky, kind of a rare enough sight here! After a quick freshen up, I went down to the main restaurant the Earl of Thomond for dinner. I was met by the affable Mr Frisby the hotel manager who allocated me a nice seat, exactly as I asked for (somewhere that I wouldn’t look too conspicuous as a sole diner!) and explained to me the menu and made some recommendations. I choose the warmed smoked salmon salad which was served with pickled fennel and tomato and sauce vierge which was beautiful. Following this I had the Roast Tail of Monkfish with thyme and nutmeg which was served on a bed of red pepper risotto with Asparagus and a buerre blanc sauce. This was quite genuinely one of the most amazing dishes I’ve had the pleasure to eat. I could have licked the plate clean but it wouldn’t have been appropriate! Because it was an ice cream kind of day I had the selection of ice creams.
(PS – I met Chef McCann, Mr Frisby and Nico from the hotel again this past Monday at the Restaurant association of Ireland awards. They were up for best hotel restaurant in Munster region. They didn’t win but for sure were a deserved nominee and in my eyes would be a worthy winner. )
A short walk after dinner and I retired to bed. I would say the bed in Dromoland was probably the best I have ever slept in. I had a really great night’s sleep. With the sun beaming in the window I awoke early and got ready for the day ahead. After a breakfast of Buttermilk panakes I was all set. Before leaving the hotel I got to see the state rooms and also the magnificent Presidential Suite….ooh someday to stay there!
After an all too short trip I had to leave the hotel early the next morning
To finish here is a recipe from the book. I chose the Malbay Crab and Smoked Salmon Starter.
12 slices of good quality Irish smoked salmon
300g cooked white crab meat
1 Garlic clove peeled and crushed
1 Tbsp Creme Fraiche
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 beef tomato, peeled, deseeded and diced
4 scallions washed and sliced
1tsp chopped tarragon
¼ cucumber peeled, deseeded and sliced
Squeeze of lemon
Dash of Tabasco
For the Dressing
4tbsp French dressing
1tbsp chopped washed capers
1tsp chopped dill
- Place the crab meat in a large bowl with all the other ingredients except the salmon
- Mix gently and check for seasoning
- Place the crab mixture in the centre of each plate surrounded by the smoked salmon
- Place in the fridge while the dressing is being prepared.
- When ready to serve drizzle the dressing around each plate and garnish with some mixed leaves.
So Happy Birthday Dromoland, long may you continue! Here’s to the next 50! Dromoland castle is part of our luxury tours on Tour Ireland -check them out here. So much to do in this region, The Burren, The Cliffs of Moher, Burren Food Trail, Burren Smokehouse, St Tola Goats farm to see how they make their famous cheese, Fabulous beaches…the list is endless!