Christmassy lunch

If you are looking for somewhere to have a Christmassy lunch with family or colleagues, there is a little place in Galway that I can recommend to you, Blazers Bar & Bistro. It is set apart from the hustle and bustle of the city, part of The Ardilaun hotel and yet but a stroll from either Salthill or the city centre. This tranquil setting, with beautifully landscaped gardens is a little a gem.

The Ardilaun is, understandably, renowned for great service which is probably a side effect of being a popular wedding choice. It is uniquely placed as a quiet, leafy, 'old fashioned' country hotel, but still no journey at all from the city. I lived on Taylors Hill for many years, before I moved to my present country pile, and had been in the Ardilaun for many functions but still had only a two minute walk back home. So, while I cannot tell you what the rooms are like, or the breakfast, or the leisure centre, I can tell you about lunch in the bistro.

I made my selection from the great value Christmas menu of three courses and a glass of wine for €20. Leaving aside the fish cakes and soup, I chose a warm tartlet starter with goats cheese, confit tomato, aubergine puree and roasted peppers. The cheese, a mild and creamy Boile, and vegetables arrived in a crisp pastry case with a good amount of well dressed salad. The salad had zingy slivers of radish and sprigs of fresh herb leaves, coriander and dill, with both tomato and pine nut and coriander pesto sparingly drizzled over making every bite different and delicious and complementing the tartlet perfectly. As starters go, this one was pretty much perfect.

I was now heavily under the influence of the twinkly lights, so I ordered the festive favourite of turkey and ham next. I do not have turkey in my house, we typically have beef or goose on Christmas Day, so I sometimes like to get my turkey fix elsewhere. It was nice and moist, with the ham extremely thinly sliced and perched on a hillock of herbed mashed potato. The usual accompaniments were unusually good, homemade cranberry sauce, gravy with a hint of calvados, and a particularly noteworthy stuffing - coriander and chestnut with pumpkin seeds for added texture - an idea I might borrow myself this year. My current husband, unaffected by the Christmas atmosphere had an elegant open lamb pie from the main lunch menu. This, like the starter, was another example of perfect balance from a more than competent kitchen, shredded lamb shoulder with flageolet beans, delicately spiced with hints of cumin and wearing a circle of puff pastry like a jaunty sea-salted hat.

These two mains were accompanied by a plate of vegetables of the size that would feed a small family their recommended five-a-day for a week and a display of potatoes cooked every which way.

The current husband also helped me out with my dessert, he is very supportive in that way. Really, I cannot thank him enough. Choosing between Christmas pudding and a rather nice sounding apple, cinnamon, and chestnut tart, I went for the least festive option. The one thing that jumped out at me on the dessert menu was 'condensed milk ice cream'. It was the accompaniment to a pavlova that was topped with a rich berry and cointreau compote. The plate arrived pretty as a picture with the pavlova crisp on the outside and marshmallowy and chewy on the inside. It was faintly blush coloured and raspberry flavoured which married it perfectly with the sharp berry compote. The ice cream that had drawn me into the deal was a disappointment - lacking in sweetness and flavour and with large ice crystals - not the best ice cream ever.

It would be wrong to think that this is a typical hotel kitchen, used to catering to large parties with safe options, crowd pleasers and run of the mill choices. The food here distinguishes itself with liberal use of fresh herbs and unexpected flavour combinations. Well worth checking out if you are on the leafy side of town.

At €20 per person, this makes for a lovely Christmas lunch and for small and middle sized offices that have not yet made a booking for a Christmas lunch, one that will not disappoint. If you do not fancy lunch, the Ardilaun also has a dinner deal with quite a similar menu, a choice of two or three courses and it is celebrating their 50th birthday with Christmas Cabaret nights with golden oldies like Sonny Knowles and Paddy Cole.

The Ardilaun hotel, Taylor’s HIll, Galway. Tel: + 353 91 521433. Email: [email protected]

Galway Wine News

If you need an idea for a foodie gift in the run-up to Christmas, how about this from Cases Wine Warehouse?

The Wise Wines Hamper. A hamper containing the lovely book 'The Chef & I' by M√≥na Wise, award-winning blogger, writer and journalist, along with two wines specially chosen by Wise. The Pellegrino Marsala which she and her husband Ron use in one of the recipes in the book, plus the Manga del Bruja Calatayud DO from northern Spain, a favourite of M√≥na`s. The hamper costs € 65.00 and can be delivered anywhere in Ireland for a € 5 fee.

Galway Food News

Party at the Pins, The Twelve, Barna.

You can celebrate 12-12-12 at the Twelve in Barna which is launching their '12 Days of Christmas' campaign celebrating local and artisan foods. This promises to be a night to remember with music, food, beauty treatments, and even a peek inside their luxurious bedrooms. There will be pop-ups from their restaurant suppliers, the '12 Food Apostles', include Galway Bay Seafood, Marty’s Mussels, Galway Hooker beer and the fantastic Comharchunam Sliog Eisc Connemara Cho Scallops, to name but a few.

Do not worry if you cannot make it this year though. Fergus O'Halloran, the managing director, assures me that they will definitely host a similar party in 100 years time on December 12 2012, so you can most likely go to that instead.

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