Anyone who was a fan of RTE’s show “The Restaurant” will be familiar with the beautiful dining space shared by the late Paulo Tuillo and his partner in crime Tom Doorley as they argued over which celebrity was responsible for the culinary creations placed before them. You may also be familiar with the views that were panned from outside over the jetties onto the stunning Lough Ree which houses this unique building. What you may not be familiar with is what lies beyond the dining room of the Wineport Lodge, a sanctuary of comfort and one of the most romantic hotels you may ever come across.
After the indulgence of the festive period there is nothing like escaping the family and treating yourself to a little R&R in one of Ireland’s hidden gems. Back in the middle of January we did just that and took the short drive to Glasson, Co.Westmeath. When we arrived at the Wineport Lodge it was a typical, chilly January day and pulling into the carpark and facing the cedar clad lodge the first thing that struck us was how unique the building itself was. More reminiscent of a swiss ski chalet resort than what you not what you might expect from a property slap bang in the heart of Athlone.
Lough Ree is one of those natural beauties, the stillness of the Lough itself plays a big part in the relaxing vibe that you will find at the Wineport. That and the exceptional staff who greeted us on arrival with a glass of mulled wine and a smile, it was probably one of the most welcoming check in’s we have experienced to date.
The lodge itself was originally built as a restaurant back in 1993 by husband and wife team Ray Byrne and Jane English, who are still very much hands on with the property and continue to enjoy welcoming guests to their idyllic location. Fast forward 20 years and they have developed the Wineport into an award winning destination with top class food.
Each of the 29 individually designed rooms are named after a famous wine region, like Bordeaux, Merlot, Champagne or Prosecco, the latter of which we had the pleasure of calling our own. Unlike many hotels the rooms at the Wineport are designed with a “no need to leave” theme, packed with all mods cons, 42” Tv’s, fully stocked mini bars, each with their own private balcony and unrivalled views of the lough. If you are feeling really indulgent you can even order a couples massage with champagne all in the comfort of your room.
Although leaving the room may be a struggle, it is well worth the effort, whether taking a dip in their Canadian outdoor hot tub, venturing down to the bar and enjoying a G&T by the fire or sampling some afternoon tea treats in their elevated Lakeshore lounge there is something for everyone. If like us you are captivated by the lough you can take a boat cruise into town (weather permitting).
Of course we couldn’t come to The Wineport and not sample some of Head Chef Shane Ennis’s legendary food. Unlike many hotel restaurants we arrived to a packed room which considering they can seat 130 an only have 29 rooms, tells you that locals see this as a go to venue for a night out. Something many of their rivals struggle to do.
The menus available cover every base imaginable, vegans and vegetarian are well catered for as are the most carnivorous of diners. Everything from Fish & Chips, Vension, Cote de Boeuf to a good old fashioned burger served on a toasted Waterford Blaa.
We kicked off beautifully cooked Wood Pigeon, four slivers of still-pink breast helped form a platform for a delightful mushroom and baked barley ragout, an earthy and wholesome dish that set the tone for the remainder of the night.
Across the table a Rabbit and Leek Fricassee arrived on a simple bed of toasted sourdough, creamy with generous chunks of rabbit laced throughout, it was a rich starter that was oddly addictive perhaps due to the addition of grain mustard which we have a slightly bizarre love of.
Mains at the Wineport can be as simple bacon and cabbage with a little Longueville Cider jus but the Baked Cod fillet we ordered was no simple dish. A curry and coconut broth bursting with flavour and packed with clams, mussels and a tiny sprinkling of peas, this was a standout dish on the night.
The other big winner on the menu was the Panfried Vension Steak, cooked medium to rare to retain all of its succulence and accompanied by some still crunching root veg and a luxurious artichoke puree. Drizzled with one of the best matches for this fine cut, a not too sweet blackberry jus.
With a name like the Wineport, expectation was high for the old wine list but it did not disappoint, in fact there is a wonderful spread of good value, new and old world examples to choose from under the €40 price point. We pushed the boat out a little for one of our favourite Napa Valley wines, imported by Findlater Wines, Trinchero Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2013 (€49), a seductive wine made to excite your senses, jammy and full bodied this was an ideal partner for the robust flavours of the vension.
After such generous mains we settled on one dessert to share, to save an argument the Assiette of Desserts won the toss. Often in hotels this can be a disappointing end to dinner as many are pre made hours in advance and can have a stodgy texture. Ennis however manages to find a happy medium with some coconut and mango ice cream, a warm chocolate brownie and carrot cake to name a few, guaranteeing a sweet treat to end our meal on a high note.
Breakfast to the room is free, yes free, another nice little touch offered to guests to encourage a restful morning which we enjoyed on the balcony overlooking the misty Lough.
As we left the Wineport Lodge after a fantastic night’s rest in their legendary comfortable beds we couldn’t help but wish we had one more night to enjoy this magical setting. This is the ultimate escape-it-all destination and one that will cast a spell on anyone fortunate enough to grace its grounds.
Overnight and Dinner start from €270 per room.
Keith & Jules Mahon are the founders of TheTaste. We want TheTaste to be a culinary kaleidoscope to champion every taste, food, wine, cocktails, whiskey, etc. We are delighted to be part of such a creative and fast moving industry and are very passionate about sharing with you our unique journey around Ireland finding the best culinary hotspots.