Just two miles outside Galway’s city centre you will find Glenlo Abbey Hotel. Nestled in a neatly manicured golf course, this 5 star hotel invites you in with open fires and a warm welcoming smile. Of course you will find all of the luxuries one might expect from a 5 star establishment, but only Glenlo Abbey can offer dinner on board the Orient Express. Yes, you read correctly – alongside the hotel you will find two original Orient Express carriages. I am not sure I have ever enjoyed dinner in more impressive surroundings. One carriage (Leona) dates back to 1927 and was a favourite of none other than Sir Laurence Olivier. The woodwork, the brasswork and many other original features lend themselves to that feeling that you have just stepped back in time. The newer carriage (Linda 1965) was used in the filming of Murder On The Orient Express. I liken the experience to how I felt when I visited Havana. It’s like you’ve just stepped on to a movie set from a different era. Indeed, Mr. D very quickly decided that this restaurant should be on everyone’s bucket list – high praise indeed. Now of course all the history and nostalgia are great, but what about the food?
The set menu offered lots of choice and great value at €52 for two courses or €59 for three courses. It is such a joy to see such a wide and varied menu packed with local produce.
We firstly enjoyed an amuse bouche of hake with smoked mussel, violet potato and seaweed, bringing the taste of the nearby sea right to our plates. Our waiter, Bart, suggested a delicious wine (Spanish Mencia €40) and his recommendation was spot on.
For starters I chose Suckling Pork Belly, seared king scallops, romanesco, caper and raisin. Using McCarrens of Cavan pork and the freshest, perfectly cooked scallops, I was most reluctant to share with Mr. D. However, he was feeling exactly the same about his Liscannor Crab and Connemara Smoked Salmon with green apple, yogurt, cucumber and wasabi. Both dishes were bursting with flavour, texture and imagination.
The raspberry sorbet that followed had the perfect amount of ‘bite’ to it and was the perfect palate cleanser in advance of our main courses. I chose the Tipperary Dexter Beef – a fillet and an oxtail croquette served with thyme scented Ballyhoura mushrooms, beef dripping fondant potatoes and burnt onion jus. Himself chose the Athenry Chicken – seared supreme, parfait tartlet, crisp leg croquette with Irish kale, fondant potatoes and a thyme jus. Not a word passed between us. We were immersed in a world of pure flavour and sublime taste sensations. We were gracious enough to share though, and I must say the parfait tartlet was in a world of it’s own.
Then it was time for something sweet. When I spotted Carrot Cake on the dessert menu, I wondered might it be too predictable. After all as much as I love carrot cake, how could one produce and present it to the level of the dishes that had gone before it? But when it’s served with a goats cheese orange yogurt sorbet, walnut crumb and candied heritage carrot, you know that it’s going to be something special – and indeed it was. While it was presented beautifully and imaginatively, it wasn’t a case of all show and no substance, in fact it was anything but. The carrot cake texture and flavour were beautifully complimented by the sorbet. Being a chocoholic, Mr D went for the Dark Chocolate Sphere with raspberry, truffled honey popcorn and chocolate soil. As the chocolate sauce was poured over the melting sphere, I prayed that I would get to taste the sauce, and I did. It was perfect. Tea and petit fours ended this epic food adventure. The marshmallow was light and the chocolates bursting with flavours like orange, pistachio and peanut butter. The perfect end to a perfect meal in what has to be one of the most perfect settings for dinner.
It’s true – this is definitely one for the bucket list..
Glenlo Abbey Hotel
T: +353 91 519600
Author of “Food from an Irish Garden”, Fiona Dillon lives with her husband and four children at Hunters Lodge in Co Carlow. Her recently published “Freddy Buttons” series of food adventure books for children (Orpen Press 2015) were written so that Fiona could share the food provenance message amongst young children. Her Freddy Buttons food-themed garden at Bloom 2015 won Fiona a silver medal.
One of Ireland’s best known food bloggers, Fiona documents her back to basics lifestyle through her blog www.fionadillon.com. She is also a feature writer for the Irish Farmers Journal’s Irish Country magazine. As Food Correspondent for KCLR96FM’s The Saturday Show, Fiona shares the latest food news from around the country with her Carlow/Kilkenny listeners. When she’s not busy giving talks on topics such as sustainable living or blogging, Fiona can be found tending to her honeybees or writing the next epic adventure for Freddy Buttons.