Imagine being taken on a magical journey through a beautiful forest, stopping every now and again to feast on delicious food taken from the surrounding wooded environment… After which you sink into one of the most comfortable beds you have ever slept in and fall into the deepest, most relaxing sleep…
This was something that I experienced recently whilst on a short break away at Mount Falcon Estate. From the moment I arrived I could feel the stresses and strains of everyday life slipping away. Located just outside Ballina in County Mayo, this is a stunning property set in one hundred acres of beautiful grounds.
Created by architect James Franklin, who also designed parts of Ashford Castle and Farmleigh for the Guinness family, Mount Falcon was built in 1872 by Ultred Knox as a wedding gift for his new wife Nina Knox-Gore of Belleek Castle. It was the home of the inimitable Constance Aldridge from 1932-2000 and was bought shortly afterwards by the Maloney Family who, along with Bruce Dunleavy and Mark Evans, developed it into a luxury hotel destination which opened in 2006.
Mount Falcon Estate is an ideal destination for anyone who likes fishing as it is situated beside the River Moy which is one of best salmon-fishing rivers in Ireland. During the salmon season, the kitchen will even prepare and cook the fish to serve up to the guests that caught it. Clay-pigeon shooting and archery are offered and keen golfers are also accommodated with a number of top-class golf-courses nearby.
There are a number of accommodation options available and guests can stay in the hotel or in one of the self-catering, Swiss-style lodges located on the Estate. I decided to stay in the hotel and loved my beautiful room. Elegantly decorated with a large, comfortable bed, I had every modern convenience within reach. The large bathroom was also fabulous and when I returned to my room after dinner in The Kitchen Restaurant, I decided to indulge myself by having a hot, relaxing bath before wrapping myself up in the fluffy dressing gown-provided.
The main purpose of my visit was to dine in the hotel’s award-winning restaurant and, having heard great reports about the food on offer, I was dying to try it. Knowing that I was keen to sample a good cross-section of dishes from the menu, Head Chef Daniel Willimont prepared a tasting menu of some of the most popular dishes for me. This memorable meal contained 16-courses and although each individual course was small I felt that I had eaten one of the most spectacular meals of my life.
Whilst all the dishes were notable there were a few that I absolutely loved and were of a standard that would rival those in any of Ireland’s top restaurants. There was a playfulness about the food and the way it was presented that I found very appealing. A perfect example of this was seen in the small Goat’s Cheese & Cherry Lolly which kicked off my meal. Simply presented in a cocktail glass, this tasty little treat consisted of soft goat’s cheese covered in a cherry gel on a lollipop stick. Although simple, it tasted heavenly. Similarly, the Garden Purple Turnip & Horseradish Soup came presented hot in a tiny shot glass alongside the lightest ricotta dumpling I have ever eaten. It was amazing how something so small and delicate could be packed so full of flavour.
Another wonderful dish was the Sous-Vide Wood Pigeon which, after being initially cooked in the water bath, was seared in the pan before being served. This was a fabulous dish and when I closed my eyes, it genuinely felt like I was dining in the Estate’s forest. Served with a velvety celeriac purée, an unbelievable crisp and flavoursome Kale wafer and some pickled elderberries, each mouthful was a joy to eat.
My favourite dish was the Squid Ink Marinated Scallop which was spectacular. Served with cauliflower cooked in a variety of ways, this was beautiful and striking to look at and delicious to eat. The scallop came bathed in a squid ink and dashi sauce which imparted a subtle taste of the sea which highlighted the sweetness of the flawlessly cooked scallop. It literally took my breath away. In many ways this would be a divisive dish which some people would be unsure about because it was so unusual but I loved it.
Other dishes of Achill Lamb Rack & Braised Leg BonBon and John Dory served with an interesting celery & Yuzu sauce were every bit as delicious and thought-provoking on the palate. There were so many wonderful dishes and I really got a sense of the love that had gone into preparing and cooking each single one.
Dining in The Kitchen Restaurant at Mount Falcon Estate is like going on a walk through the estate’s grounds where everything on the plate tastes like the countryside it originated in. So many chefs try to create food that has a sense of place but ultimately find that it is difficult to achieve. Blessed with a bountiful natural larder locally and a real understanding of how to showcase the different ingredients available to him, Daniel Willimont has succeeded in doing this at Mount Falcon.
My meal finished with two wonderful desserts. The first of which, Apple & Meringue, included a lovely vanilla custard sandwiched between crisp discs of meringue and was served with an apple soup. This was served separately and poured over the meringue just before eating. The second dessert – a lovely throw-back to the 1960s – was Crêpes Suzette which was prepared and flambéed in front of me. Full of boozy, orange flavours, I was reminded why this is such a great way to finish a meal.
Daniel offered to bring me on a tour of the Estate’s kitchen gardens so we arranged to meet the following morning. After my lovely breakfast of Pancakes and Poached Eggs, we made our way down to the impressive gardens which are lovingly tended by Head Gardener Alex Lavarde. Many of the ingredients that I had eaten the previous night were grown here and I was dying to see the gardens for myself.
The kitchen garden is located near the entrance to Mount Falcon and just a short walk from the main hotel building and has been developed by Alex and Daniel who have worked in close collaboration. Constance Aldridge, the previous owner, fervently believed that food should never have to travel and this is a philosophy that has been carried through since the hotel and restaurant was opened.
Visiting the kitchen garden and hearing Daniel talk about his ideas for future dishes in the restaurant using produce grown in the kitchen garden was truly inspiring. In addition to common-place herbs and vegetables, experimental plants are grown in the immaculately laid out beds and in the poly-tunnels. I was fascinated to see quinoa growing and was impressed by the range of heritage varieties that have been introduced. Bee hives are situated to one side of the garden and a sizeable orchard is also being developed.
My tour through the kitchen garden was a wonderful way to end my brief but thoroughly enjoyable visit to Mount Falcon. Even though I only stayed one night, it was one of the most relaxing breaks I have ever had. The food was outstanding. Service throughout my stay was faultless and nothing was too much trouble. I would recommend Mount Falcon Estate to anyone without hesitation.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.