One of Mayo's most iconic hotels, Ashford Castle in Cong, has launched an array of new summer dining options and the luxury retreat is intent on showcasing to its international and local visitors all that is good about the Connemara landscape and its produce.
Thanks to the variety of options available, Mayo foodies (even those on a more restricted budget ) can dine at Ashford estate this summer, whether it is in a dungeon, a cottage, a tea room, or an opulent, formal, dining room.
The new summer menu also gives non-residents the chance to see for themselves the results of an extensive restoration project, reportedly costing almost €50 million, which has been ongoing at the hotel for the past two years, since it was purchased by the prestigious hotel group, the Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
On a recent media day at Ashford Castle, general manager Niall Rochford described the founder and president of the international hotel group, Beatrice Tollman, as the most inspirational hotelier he has ever met.
He said the investment by the Tollman family in the historic castle represents perhaps the most significant investment in its history.
The restoration project has secured the building for generations to come while the enhanced facilities, (cinema, spa, pool, billiard room, cigar terrace, and multiple outdoor pursuits to name just a few ) has elevated the Ashford estate into a true world class destination and the ultimate country playground.
Every part of the hotel has been upgraded and restored with no expense or detail spared, including a complete makeover in each of the hotel's 82 impressive suites and rooms.
The Ashford estate now also includes The Lodge, which was formerly called Lisloughrey Lodge.
Head chef at Wildes at the Lodge, Jonathan Keane, who has been attracting a growing level of attention on the culinary awards scene, is passionate about sourcing good local fare and giving it his own inventive twist.
Keane is originally from Kylemore in Connemara and says he firmly believes that Mayo and Connemara provide him with some of the best quality raw ingredients, not only in Ireland, but in the world.
His menu reflects this belief with as many ingredients as possible sourced within the close locality.
"Honest and authentic"
Keane says Wilde's is a relaxed dining experience with contemporary food made from honest, authentic, ingredients.
For a more formal Ashford experience, there is the quintessential French cuisine on offer in the opulent surroundings of the George V dining room in the castle itself.
Here too the menu is seasonal and local, and is overseen by Ashford's new executive chef, the talented Philippe Farineau.
Farineau, originally from France but living and working in Ireland for many years, is just as enthusiastic as his Connemara colleague Keane when it comes to the potential and rare high quality of the local ingredients.
He is commited to continuing Ashford Castle's tradition of immersing guests in the local Connemara experience but in the George V dining room, expect a much more formal type of dining experience in a richly panelled room under twinkling Waterford Crystal chandeliers.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Cullen's at the Dungeon offers a bistro-style menu, and in keeping with its medieval theme, it focuses in Irish cuisine, past and present, beneath a historic, curved, stone ceiling.
If that sounds a bit too 'underground', go for the lighter surrounds of Cullen's at the Cottage instead. One of the specialities at the quaint little restaurant, perched just on the edge of the immediate castle grounds, is dishes prepared using a charcoal and rotisserie oven with lots of the inspiration for the menu coming from Bea Tollman's own favourite recipes from around the world.
A new addition just next door is the Mrs Tea's Boutique and Bakery, where there are lots of home-baked goods on offer from scones and jams to chutneys and cookies.
One of the most popular attractions for visitors to the castle, as well as locals, is the elegant afternoon tea experience.
The elaborate spread is served in The Connaught Room, where former castle residents Lord and Lady Ardilaun also enjoyed the tradition each day, overlooking the manicured lawns and picturesque lake.
The menu uses locally sourced, artisan, produce and includes delicate finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jams, a selection of dessert treats and a selection of teas and coffee.
For more information on all of the dining options or to make a reservation at Ashford Castle this summer, visit www.ashfordcastle.ie