If you are in need of a treat you need look no further. Gregans Castle Hotel, in Ballyvaughan, is just the place for a perfect escape from the madness of city life. It is a boutique hotel situated in a prime location with vistas down to the Atlantic Ocean. There is an emphasis on quietness and there are no television sets or radios in the bedrooms or in the public areas. The ‘out of sight’ car park is a short walk past the croquet lawn to the discrete main entrance. We were fortunate enough to be able to spend a weekend here recently and the experience was wonderful. The main reason we came here was because we had heard wonderful things about their chef Mickael Viljanen. While he hasn’t yet received a Michelin Star he has received almost every other accolade an Irish based chef can get. And it’s very easy to see why because his food is phenomenal.
Our meal commenced with the canapés shown below which, as far as I can recall, were pork cheek, beetroot meringue, smoked potato cube and salmon mousse (working left to right). They were quite delicious and they were so delicately assembled that it really seemed like a shame to take them asunder. My favourite two were the pork cheek and the meringue.
For starters I chose the menu option of ‘raw milk whey with lovage, polvrade artichoke and morteau sauage’, himself chose foie gras, honeycomb pear, almonds, spiced bread’ and neither of us was tempted by the third option of ‘mackerel, avocado, oyster emulsion, cucumber, dill, soy’. I can tell you now that we had to do a bit of googling in order to make our way through the menu. Ignoramuses that we are we didn’t know what polvrade artichokes were or morteau sausage. I didn’t want to eat some glorified jerusalem artichoke and having once had the misfortune to order chitterling sausages in France I am very careful about sausage ordering. But all was fine with the morteau sausage. My dish had an accompanying side dish of a velouté (celeriac I think) for consuming separately.
The next course allowed for a choice between ‘skate, beetroot, peas, brown shrimp, girolles, snail, caper shoot and raisin dressing, parsley velouté’ OR ‘scallop, truffle, cauliflower, hazelnut, wood sorrel, smoked apple, leek and ash’. I opted for the skate and Mr W went for the scallop. We were knocked out by the stunning dishes that arrived. Everything was delightfully, and daintily, presented. And of course the flavours were amazing.
The entrés (if you could call them that) were most unusual. There was a choice of two ‘squab pigeon, new season carrots, date, vadouvan‘ or ‘veal sweetbread, broccoli, turnip, malted rye, liquorice, fennel’. As far as I was concerned there was no choice because I wasn’t going to chance sweetbreads which I have eaten before (albeit unbeknowns to me). We both went for the safer option of the pigeon breast. It was really good, barely flashed in the pan and served with carrots prepared/cooked in different ways. It was topped with a crispy potato ring.
Desserts were loosely described as follows:
‘passion fruit soufflé, sorbet, tonka bean’, ‘celery, blackcurrant, pistacchio’ or ‘strawberries & elderflower’.
I was intrigued by the celery/blackcurrant/pistacchio and asked what it was. “It is the flavours of the dish, Chef says” came the reply. I wasn’t surprised as I had earlier overheard Simon (the owner) phoning the kitchen to get clarificaton on this subject. Clearly, he got no illumination from Chef! I ordered it anyway and I can tell you that what I got was an amazing dish. There was a layered blackcurrant mousse/fruity jelly with celery ice-cream. I’ll tell you this ice-cream was fabulous. I wouldn’t hesitate to order it if I ever saw it on a menu again. It was really refreshing and I’m glad to have experienced it. The pistacchio ‘cake’ was also an interesting experience and it was topped with a blackcurrant mousse. I enjoyed it so much that I have no recollection of what himself ordered but I suspect it was the soufflé.
We finished with petit fours and coffee which we had in the Residents’ Lounge. I was seriously impressed with the quality of the petit fours. There were two mini-magnums/choc ices, propped up in a bowl of sugar, which were exceptionally gorgeous. There was a slightly tart apple jelly cube, a coconut experience, a small brown caramel chocolate, a macaroon and something which our Polish (sorry Silesian) server described as an Oprah – but with hindsight I suspect it was an ‘opera’. Whatever it was it, it tasted wonderful (the layered cube item in the picture below).
We dined from the six course tasting menu, with wine pairings, and the meal was the highlight of our gourmet week in Ireland. I will definitely be coming back for more. It was ‘täydellinen’ as they say in Finland.