I remember, as a child, reading ‘The Secret Garden’ and dreaming about living in a castle. Now that I’m all grown up and I know how much cleaning it would involve, I’m happy just to swing by for a night of decadence. This is a trip for the grown ups only – trust me, you will thank me later!
West Cork Food Festival
The West Cork Food Festival is an event that all foodies dream of. The fish are in from the waters of West Cork, the beef is melt in the mouth and in off the hills overlooking the sea and the efforts made by all providers along the foodie trail is utterly amazing. I am an enormous advocate of supporting local food producers, especially the small farmers so this event is a really special one. Sadly, this year, I was away for all but one day of the festival so I knew I had to make my one effort a good one.
My bestie suggested a night in ‘The Castle’ andI absolutely couldn’t say no! So, we packed our bags and off we went for the 30 minute drive from Clonakilty. If you are coming from Cork, it will take you about 75 minutes to get here once you don’t get stuck behind a tractor.
I landed in a flap about 9 minutes before the meeting time of 7pm. All you parents out there will understand the phenomenon of the ‘I’m leaving the house now ‘ Q & A Session where nothing will do but to patiently recite the weekend schedule to reassure all children that you haven’t forgotten their social schedule. The unfortunate side effect is either being 9 minutes early (and requiring psychiatric intervention) or 9 minutes late. However, I found on arrival, the psych referral was completely unnecessary. Once the front doors opened, an air of calm oozed out to meet me and I was immediately transported into a grown up only zone.
Anyway, with minutes to spare, I topped up the lippy and landed into the foyer just in time for champagne and some delightful treats. I took no photos. I was busy being in the moment, hugging friends, relishing champagne bubbles popping on my palette and feeling like high society, hobnobbing in an exclusive country lodge. I felt very Joanna Lumley, ‘dahling’, just without the shoulder pads!
Once the champagne glasses were empty, we were guided to an intimate dining room. It seated about 20 diners and was furnished with linen covered tables and all the original paintings and furniture. A bottle of red and white wine were placed on the table as the chef began to introduce himself and the food that was about to be served. He explained that we would be eating a modern take on the food that would have been served at the castle a century before. It was also explained to us that all the food was sourced very locally.
The first course was a terrine of beef cheek and beef heart accompanied by a pickled carrot. If I had seen it on a menu, I would never have ordered it, but I was delighted to give it a try. It was flavoursome and the texture was unusual but it was tasty and the urging of the chef to at least ‘try everything’ is what made me chance it. I wasn’t disappointed.
Now this was delicious. I am not a fan of cured fish – I like my fish cooked. But the flavour of this was to die for. The mackerel was succulent and flavoursome and didn’t have the alcohol sting I had expected. I absolutely love fennel, so this dish was a hit.
We were served a glass of the West Cork Brewing Company Pale Ale (Sherkin Lass) with our mackerel. It was like liquid honey and complemented the dish perfectly.
Moving On To Mains
There were two dishes I would have called main courses and the fish was my favourite.
The cod was cooked to perfection and the flavours were subtle and perfectly balanced. The bed of pea shoots brought a flavour of spring to the plate. It was such a juxtaposition to the raging wind and rain outside and was a perfect centrepiece to the dining experience.
When this dish came out, I was initially disappointed that there was no gravy with the beef. However, the tang and beautiful flavour of the salsa verde negated the need for gravy. As the beef was so tender and moist, there was, in fact, no need for a gravy at all.
Dessert and Cheese
This was a pretty dessert and the portion size was perfect following on from such an amount of food. I wasn’t a fan of the panna cotta. I have never made this dish, so I may have been mistaken, but I felt the panna cotta was over set and didn’t have enough flavour to balance the dramatic coulis on top. The coulis, on the other hand, was mind blowing. I literally mean that – every time I think about it since, I can taste it. This brought the meal full circle through the seasons and landed us firmly in autumn.
The cheese board was served with the most amazing port. Now this, I was very happy with. The cheese was sharp and mature and the port complimented it perfectly.
Into The Kitchen
Once we finished, I popped into the kitchen to thank the staff. They were so friendly and answered all my questions.
Further to that, the chef and servers came to say good night to the room and suggested that if we wanted any more wine or beer that we could take from the honesty bar and just write what we had taken down in the book.
Breakfast was served on tables covered in white linen. A simple but delicious selection of fruit and baking with the option of ordering eggs any way and a full Irish breakfast.
The grounds at The Castle are extensive and a walkway is set around the edge of the water and through the woods. If you know me, you know that anything to get me out in the outdoors is a winner. The Castle of Castletownshend has been a winner hands down.
This premium package was a steal at €250. This included a one night stay for 2, 6 course meal with 2 bottles of wine, a jug of port and a full breakfast. I challenge anyone to source a deal like this in Cork City!
So, my recommendation is this; The attention to detail and the treatment you receive from the moment you walk in the door is second to none. There was absolutely nothing I could fault about this trip – except for the fact that I didn’t plan to stay longer. I will most certainly be back to The Castle in Castletownshend.
*This trip was not in any way sponsored and all opinions regarding the food and facilities are my own.