In the last major chef shuffle in the west, The Ardilaun got a winning hand in securing Ultan Cooke as executive head chef. He has an impressive pedigree, after graduating from GMIT, Cooke moved to London to work in the renowned Savoy Grill, The Conservatory at the Lanesborough Hotel, as well as working with John Torode in his restaurants Smiths of Smithfield and The Luxe.
Following his London adventures, Cooke came back to Galway where he took over the kitchen of Aniar as head chef and maintained the Michelin star there for two and half years. After a quick stint as head chef in Ballinahinch Castle, he is now happily ensconced in the much loved Ardilaun hotel. One presumes that the commute to the wilds of Connemara every day would have been a considerable factor in deciding his last change of employment.
This famous old hotel, where John Ryan is the current general manager, dates back to about 1840 and has been in the ownership of the Ryan family for more than 50 years. Since then extensions and renovations have extended the hotel considerably, but without losing its gentle old-world atmosphere. It is today as it has always been, a well-run establishment where friendly staff make a good impression from the outset. The welcoming lobby area is a charming yet convenient meeting place and a pleasant spot to sit for a coffee and scone. As one of Galway’s most popular wedding and conference venues and accommodation, it is equally suited to business and weddings guests, and the in-house leisure facilities, including swimming pool, attract families and couples on short breaks. As they say themselves, it is “one of the few Galway hotels to realise that you can’t have a family break without all of the family” and so garden rooms are available for four legged guests also.
Some of the spacious, comfortably furnished, public areas overlook mature gardens at the back, including the main hotel restaurant, The Camilaun, where there is a real sense of occasion. The dining here is traditional in style with white linen and formal service — breakfast is also served in this elegant room.
An appealing alternative, however, is offered in The Ardilaun Bistro, informal but every bit as delicious. It is an attractive restaurant, more contemporary in style, and popular with locals popping in for a spot of lunch, so there is always a good atmosphere. Accessible from the hotel foyer but with its own entrance beside the main hotel front door with plenty of parking, it has the air of an independent restaurant rather than a hotel dining room. Ultan Cooke took the helm late in 2016, and since then he and his team have introduced new lunch and dinner menus, with seasonal specials which change daily to make the most of the freshest produce.
This is crowd pleasing bistro food with plenty of choice and not a great deal of difference between the lunch and dinner menus. Although there is much made of using the finest selection of local artisan produce, there is little by way of provenance on the menu or elsewhere. Still there is real value for money to be found in the signature sandwiches which are mostly around the €6 mark, from the traditional BLT, and classic open smoked salmon, to exotic Thai wrap and also in the enticing salads such as grilled prawn and chorizo and crab with avocado, which all come in two sizes — €6.95 for starters size and €9.95 for mains. Starters also include chowder, calamari, and goat’s cheese tart.
Larger dishes include generous cheeseburgers, sirloin steaks, Thai green curry, and a pie of the day, and unusually there is a large selection of things suitable for vegans and vegetarians. There are home-grown additions from The Ardilaun’s own kitchen walled garden and herb garden which also add an extra special homemade touch to desserts such as strawberry crème brulée and an old favourite, sticky toffee pudding. The light bites menu features charcuterie, mezze, and Irish cheese plates alongside more international treats, patatas bravas, and nachos available throughout the day.
Ultan Cooke’s vision is for the dining experience to be sympathetic to the ingredients and seasons. His daily inspiration comes from what arrives in the kitchen and dishes are reflective of the west and all that is best in Irish cuisine. While The Ardilaun has undergone many changes in the kitchen in recent times, the latest head chef may quite well be the best fit to date.
The Ardilaun Bistro, The Ardilaun Hotel, Taylor’s Hill, Galway. Phone: 091 521 433. Email: [email protected].