Lucky me, I am blessed with my job here as food writer for the Mayo Advertiser.
I received a call last week from Lynda Foley, the general manager of the fabulous four star Harlequin Hotel in Castlebar.
The hotel has quite recently taken on a new head chef, Paul Moran, and my wife Julie and I were invited along to sample his new menu.
Having dined here earlier this year, we were both looking forward to it as we were wowed with both the food and the service, no change there, thank God.
We were greeted by Owen, the restaurant manager, and sat at a lovely table, which gave us both views of the busy Castlebar streets and also the open plan kitchen.
Paul Moran, the chef, had a beautiful tasting menu prepared for us and homemade fresh olive bread and soda bread displayed on a wooden board with rosettes of Irish butter which was a welcome sight on a cold autumn night.
Our first course of cream of roast parsnip and turmeric soup was amazing.
The smell of the soup was gorgeous, the visual deep yellow colour, a smooth and creamy texture, topped with crispy roasted parsnip chips was a real revelation.
Julie described it as the most delicious soup that she has ever tasted, so obviously, I need to up my standards at home. Joking aside, I think that she summed it up.
Our next course was a slow roasted belly of pork with a ragout of forest mushrooms and a sage infused cream.
Wow, the presentation was up to international competition standard, sautéed wild mushrooms topped with shards of perfectly cooked pork belly, served on a rectangular plate with a lovely creamy sauce that brought the whole dish together.
This dish had depth of flavour that was as good as the presentation, sign of a great creative chef.
The fish course was to follow, lightly fried fillets of plaice with seasonal beetroot and mixed baby leaves with Brussels sprout purée.
Again, wow, this was good, incredible presentation (you eat with your eyes ) perfectly seasoned and cooked fillets served with a side salad that was tossed in a lovely dressing.
I am not a lover of Brussels sprouts, and was surprised how the purée complemented the fish, not overpowering, just right. The attention to detail by the chef is something not seen much these days and is to be commended.
This was my favourite dish on the menu and sure to be a signature dish in the hotel, an extremely high standard of cooking.
Although bursting at the seams, our main course of corn-fed chicken stuffed with Bluebell Falls goat’s cheese was a real winner too.
This Italian based dish was served in a bowl; chicken was cut on the slant on a bed of fluffy basil scented mash, with a fantastic deep red tomato and caramelised garlic sauce.
The textures of this dish were amazing, crispy skin, soft cheese, seasoned mash and sweet tomato sauce, a lovely combination.
This was served with the most beautifully cooked sweet and crispy roasted vegetables that complemented the dish.
There is something homely about the Harlequin Hotel, that is hard to put into words, you have to experience it yourself to fully understand.
It is just a lovely place to eat, comfortable, bright, clean and inviting with a high standard of both food and service.
Owen knew every detail of every dish on the menu, the restaurant was busy but you would not think it with him running the service. What an asset to this fine hotel.
And now to the dessert, Julie’s highlight of the whole experience.
Plum queen of puddings is definitely another dish that will feature on the new menu. This is Paul Moran’s modern twist on a trifle, a warm trifle.
Served in a glass, plums cooked with cloves and cinnamon were topped with a warm sponge and custard, and a piped Italian grilled meringue topping. Superb.
To sum up, the Harlequin Hotel offers food and service that you might find in a five star restaurant, not many hotels can boast that standard. Thanks to Lynda Foley for inviting us, as I mentioned earlier, I am blessed with the perks of this job.
We certainly will return to the Harlequin soon, I would recommend that you do too.
You can book a table on 094 928 6200 or check out the website www.harlequinhotelcastlebar.ie