Glorious Ashford Castle reopened recently following a months long, top to bottom restoration and enhancement program that firmly re-establishes it as the most luxurious destination hotel in Ireland. Situated on the shores of Lough Corrib in Cong, County Mayo, the castle, parts of which date back to 1228, was home to the Guinness family for more than 100 years and has operated as a hotel since 1939.
Under the direction of its new owner, Mrs. Beatrice Tollman, founder and President of Red Carnation Hotels, each of the guest rooms and all of the public rooms have been refurbished in true Red Carnation style — antique furnishings, bespoke carpets, marble baths, original artwork, and high-tech touches like in-wall USB chargers, electronic blinds, and flat screen TVs. New amenities and additions to the castle include a billiards room, cigar terrace, children’s games room, and a 32-seat cinema where “The Quiet Man” is screened nightly. (The 1951 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara classic was filmed in Cong and on the castle grounds). The final piece of the renovation is the addition of a beautiful spa and indoor swimming pool, due to open in July. The Lodge at Ashford Castle, formerly known as Lisloughrey Lodge, is a charming sister hotel within the castle grounds.
I visited Ashford in mid-May and was delighted to return there for my third stay. As a repeat guest, I could really appreciate the “new and improved” Ashford and enjoy some of the fantastic outdoor activities that I skipped in the past. Tennis anyone? Golf? Falconry? Fishing? Riding? Cruising on Lough Corrib?
But never the food, and there’s plenty to choose from in that department as well, especially from Ashford’s new head chef Philippe Farineau. The award-winning chef, whose motto “French heart-Irish products” is embroidered on his chef’s coat, is passionate about and totally committed to anything related to Irish food. Under his direction, elegant breakfasts and lavish dinners take place in the George V dining room; contemporary Irish meals can be found at Cullen’s at the Dungeon (in the castle) and Cullen’s at the Cottage (adjacent to the golf course); afternoon tea is served in the Connaught room, light lunches in the Drawing Room, and cocktails in the Princes of Wales Bar. Guests can also find light fare at Mrs. Tea’s Boutique and Bakery and delicious choices at the Quay Bar and Brasserie or Wilde’s at The Lodge at Ashford. What’s not to love? (www.ashfordcastle.com; www.thelodgeac.com)
Honeycomb Ice Cream
Hotelier Bea Tollman, whose design flair is the signature of her Red Carnation Hotel Collection, is also a self-confessed foodie. Her cookbook “A Life in Food” features recipes from her hotels, some of which have been incorporated into menus at the restaurants at Ashford Castle. This luscious ice cream has quickly become a favorite at Cullen’s at the Cottage, the casual dining eatery adjacent to the golf course.
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tbsp. baking soda, sifted
1 quart vanilla ice cream
- Line a 13- x 9-in. baking pan with parchment paper and butter the paper. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the corn syrup, sugar, and vinegar to a boil. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the syrup turns a light caramel color. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and leave to cool and harden; do not refrigerate.
- Soften the ice cream slightly. Break the honeycomb slab into pieces and fold half into the ice cream. Return the ice cream to its container and freeze again. Reserve the remaining honeycomb pieces (store in an airtight tin) for topping.