It is fair to say, I think, that we have all learned to lower our expectations a little when dining in a hotel. Often we hear the phrase “the food was great” qualified by the appendage “for a wedding”. After all, serving 120 plus plates of beef or salmon all at the same time is an entirely different prospect to cooking two or four plates to order.
There are, of course, those hotels which buck the trend, where the food is good and better than you would expect in a stand alone restaurant, with usually an excellent chef behind it all. Consider the inventive and often whimsical stylings of Jonathan Keane in The Lodge at Ashford, the imaginative cuisine of Pascal Marinot, head chef at Delphi Lodge, and the long serving Tim O’Sullivan at Renvyle House.
The much loved Ardilaun hotel is a well known landmark, located among spacious leafy grounds just off Taylor’s Hill, a pleasant stroll from either Salthill or the city centre. Settled into the hotel’s comfortable lounge with the open fire and plush couches with pillows as soft as marshmallows, you are instantly transported from the hustle and bustle of Galway life to the middle of the countryside. This hotel is known for its family-run warmth and beautiful grounds, you expect elegant afternoon teas and great service. What you do not expect from The Ardilaun is surprises.
On a recent visit the dark and cosy dining room had changed little. Any lightness comes from the green expanse of the garden through the glass door. It is just the sort of room where you would expect roast beef and chicken liver pate with crisp scrolls of melba toast, maybe some curls of butter in a dish adorning the tables, and the rattle of a dessert trolley bedecked with seventies Good Housekeeping favourites. Except this is now the home of the recently launched Ardilaun Bistro, a casual bistro-style restaurant, previously known as Blazers Bistro, featuring the best of west of Ireland producers.
This is the brainchild of chef David O’Donnell and his team. O’Donnell joined The Ardilaun in 2008, having worked his way through many of Ireland’s best hotels such as Knockranny House, Mount Juliet, and The Heritage at Killenarde. As executive chef he oversees the entire food offering of the hotel, from the fine dining restaurant, The Camilaun, to the innovative events and wedding catering.
The menu does a lot of local name dropping: Friendly Farmer pasture reared chicken, Carragh’s Microgreens, Aran Island goat’s cheese, Achill mountain lamb. The words ‘artisan’, ‘traditional’, and ‘homemade’ have in recent years been kidnapped by big agri-business and routinely used to describe products that are made in a factory or laboratory, not a kitchen, farm, or field (as felonious and false a claim as if I arose in the morning and decided to refer to myself as Doctor Carroll ). In The Ardilaun the team have strong relationships with their suppliers, true artisans who focus on quality and consistency in what they produce.
To start there is an eight hour braised beef short rib, which has that ideal soft, meaty, texture, it wants to be eaten. There is the punch of pickled mushrooms, the crunch of croquette hiding its creamy goat’s cheese innards, all extraordinarily well balanced. To follow then, a single perfect scallop with turf smoked chicken perched on butternut squash and anointed with a fennel fondue. Around this are modernist touches, soft layers of roasted shallot holding warm, smoked, garlic jus, there is cleverness and technique on show. We finished with a chocolate truffle torte, crisp on top and at its heart shamelessly sticky. A spiced orange cake came with the ideal companions of a sweet condensed milk crisp and an almost bitter charred clementine. Three beautifully poised, almost faultless, dishes. What is even better is the value — two courses are €25 including a glass of wine, pint of beer, or a soft drink.
At lunch time there are French-style tartines for a light bite, including Cornamona hot smoked salmon, or pulled pork shoulder with celeriac and apple salsa. More substantial lunches include venison pie, fish and chips, or a beef burger served on a brioche bap. Everything looks beautiful and delivers on flavour.
Here is confident, creative, cooking celebrating all the best ingredients on our doorstep — hotel food just got a whole lot more interesting. Surprise!
The bistro is open for lunch from 12 noon to 4pm and for dinner from 5.30pm to 9pm.
The Ardilaun Hotel, Taylor’s Hill, Galway. Phone +353 91 521 433. Email [email protected] .