If there is one thing we have no shortage of in Ireland, it’s castles. We’ve had the privilege of staying in some of the most lovingly restored examples throughout the country, many of which are still family owned and carrying on a generational tradition.
However, upkeep on these sprawling properties can be a challenge. Many have had to diversify over the years opening up the family home to the public, with some of the more well-known landmarks verging into the hotel business and very successfully so.
Adare Manor, Ashford Castle, Clontarf Castle to name but a few much loved properties, however one had escaped our radar – Castle Leslie Estate in county Monagahan.
Rumour has it that it’s haunted by the ghost of Norman Leslie who died during the First World War, however we can confirm that thankfully, there were no sightings of Norm on our recent trip.
We had heard award-winning chef Philip Brazil (ex-Sheen Falls) had taken over the reigns in the kitchen as executive chef and having sampled his food in the past, we were excited to see what he would bring to this neck of the woods.
Just shy of two hours from Dublin and located on over 1000 acres of breath-taking countryside in Glaslough Co Monaghan, the short trip makes this an ideal little romantic escape or girls weekend away.
This sprawling estate came to worldwide notoriety when Paul McCartney hosted his wedding there back in 2002, when Sir Paul had the pleasure of staying in the famous Red Room (No not that red room) at the castle. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at how that marriage ended, we never reached the dizzy heights of the Red Room.
Instead we opted for the more relaxed setting of the Lodge, where they have converted the old stable into some very comfortable accommodation allowing you to enjoy the grounds and amenities, including popping into the castle, for a far more attractive price point.
We stayed in a superior room, which included a cosy little balcony, overlooking the Equestrian centre stables below. The Lodge is a beautiful space and also houses Snaffles Restaurants and Conor’s Bar, a cute little snug serving up a fantastic selection of whiskey and of course, a creamy pint of Guinness.
Snaffles, a slightly odd name for restaurant, is situated on the mezzanine floor and is open to local guests in addition to residents. It’s an impressive space with carved wooden vaulted ceilings and rustic oak beams.
It doesn’t feel like a hotel dining space, which was a big positive. It’s a room with character and plenty of atmosphere and with two AA rosettes, it clearly has a competent kitchen to back that up.
There is the very appealing and it must be said affordable option of a nine-course tasting menu for €75pp, but we decided to stick with the a la carte so we could pick and choose.
Featured on the menu is a long list of local producers and given Brazil’s credentials, it’s no surprise that he would place a huge emphasis on sourcing the best possible local produce.
We kicked off with a stater of Pan Seared Atlantic Scallops, set in a half shell with mango salsa, lemon jelly, cucumber, samphire, dried bacon and a drool worthy Bergamot Foam.
Across the table a substantial Pan Fried Breast of Quail appeared. Four perfectly cooked slices of this gamey delicacy surrounded by a red endive & Serrano ham Tarte Tatin, with a zesty drizzle of wholegrain mustard savoury custard and the piece de resistance, two crispy little drumsticks cheekily taking centre stage.
For mains it was a fairly easy decision – Roast Loin of Black Stair Mountain Lamb had us sold. Sweet and pink as lamb should be, with mint cream, asparagus and pistachio complimenting a beautiful, quality centrepiece.
Sticking with a meaty theme, our second main consisted of a sublime seared Loin of Venison, the unquestionable highlight of the evening. Tagliatelle, roast parsnip and Parmesan tuile made this a memorable unique take on a classic.
It’s worth noting the effort that has gone into the wine list here. Every dish had a suggested pairing and perusing the full compliment made for impressive reading, especially the price point for some of the wine listed.
We settled on a Santenay 1er Cru, Justin Girardin, Burgundy 2015 priced at €53. A superb Pinot like this was a very pleasant surprise and we noted many cracking wines at exceptional value on the list, so definitely one for the wine lover in your life to add to their bucket list.
For dessert, we decided to share a Fennel Meringue, pear glaze and a delectable liquorice ice cream. Simple, delicious and most importantly, different.
You can’t come to Castle Leslie Estate and not sample a tipple in Conor’s Bar, so we finished our evening with a night cap there, although the gin trolley in Snaffles caused a moment of hesitation.
After an evening of indulgence a morning touring the castle and grounds was badly needed, even though a day in the castle’s spa, The Victorian Treatment Rooms, seemed slightly more appealing.
A trip to the castle exploring the beautifully renovated rooms, historical artefacts and many unique antiques collected by the family over the years is an absolute must.
However, there is no fear of boredom setting in at Castle Leslie Estate as there is a seemingly endless supply of activities on offer such as fishing, horse-drawn carriage rides, falconry, clay pigeon shooting, boating and brilliantly, horse riding.
Our morning was spent exploring the hidden beauty across 1000 acres of natural splendour, before heading back to reality in the city.
Castle Leslie Estate is beyond a doubt one of those places in Ireland that not enough people talk about, and perhaps that is part of the charm. It feels like one of those places you’ll be reluctant to share as you’ll want to keep it all for yourself.
Unfortunately our job is to share these little nuggets of pleasure with you, whether it be an impressive wedding venue, a quick romantic getaway or a weekend retreat for the foodie in your life, Castle Leslie Estate ticks all the boxes.
Prices for Overnight, B&B and dinner for two start from the astonishingly good value price of €115 per person sharing.
Castle Leslie Estate
REVIEW BY JULES MAHON