Bia Devil – The essential food and wine page for  Galway Advertiser by Willie Shaw

Cullen’s at the Cottage, Ashford Castle, Cong, Co Mayo.

 

The recent good weather prompted me to go for a drive and see the latest development at Ashford Castle. I realize most people in Galway think it is a long drive to Cong, but it actually only took 35 minutes from Eyre Square on a busy Sunday afternoon.

When you arrive at Ashford, do not be put off by the fact that there may be security at the entrance gates; this is simply to ensure safety for all visitors and guests. There is no admission charge and this new development is proof that Ashford Castle wants visitors to come and sample its new restaurant. When you enter the grounds, it is a little like entering a different world, the grass is so well tended and the views are among the best that the west of Ireland has to offer. If the weather is good, take time to have a walk in the grounds (600 acres) – the flowers and fountain are breathtaking on a good day.

Just before the bridge in front of Ashford Castle you will see a thatched cottage on the right hand side, this is Cullen’s Cottage. The cottage was named after a waiter who was 28 years working at Ashford. Cullen’s is open from 11.00 to 9.30pm, seven days a week and there is no need to book. Hidden behind the cottage is a state of the art, brand new kitchen which is overseen by head chef at Ashford, Stefan Matz.

The menu is wide ranging and the best of local produce is used. Connemara Smokehouse organic salmon is used and McGeoghs of Oughterard supplies the meats. Most people are of the opinion that food in Ashford is expensive and while the main restaurant in the castle is not for casual dining, the really good news about Cullen’s is that the prices are very reasonable. This also applies to the wines, 17 in all, ranging from €15 to €30, (that is not a typo) €15.00 per bottle for a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc is excellent value in any restaurant. They are also available by the glass if you so request. I had a glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand which was the most expensive wine on the list and it cost €7.50. Per glass.

We ordered a seafood chowder €7.50, and a plate of barbecued oysters with bacon and melted pearl onions €12.00. We also ordered a glazed shank of lamb with roast garlic and balsamic jus with a side salad of plum tomatoes and rocket leaves €17.00, plus the most expensive meal on the menu, lobster pie €25.00. There are several pasta dishes for €15/€16, char grilled fillet steak plus your choice of side order €25.00 and some tempting sandwiches like chicken, basil and brie pannini €7.50 and char grilled vegetable pannini €7.50.

The chowder really was the best I have tasted, not at all heavy and you really could taste the wine in it. My barbecued oysters were just flashed under the grill for a short visit and served to melt in my mouth. I asked the waiter to show me a serving of the seafood platter (€19.00) and I was shortly shown one on its way to a customer. It was simply the best presentation of this dish I have ever seen. A generous fan of organic smoked salmon with an oyster in the half shell plus three bowls containing separate portions each of prawn, crabmeat and mussels.

The lamb shank was a large helping and it was just melt in your mouth, one touch of the knife and it simply parted company with the bone, the balsamic jus was the perfect sauce and although the dish was ordered by my guest, I could not help dipping into it.

For €17 this is really good value and the price included one side order of choice; bacon and cabbage champ. My lobster pie was served in the dish it was cooked in, topped off with mashed potatoe which had a nice light crust. There was a wide selection of vegetables in the pie; mini corn, mangetout, asparagus brocolli and French bean, just one piece of each but nice attention to detail.

The lobster meat was, at a guess about half a small lobster and delicious. This dish also included a side order, I chose plum tomatoes and rocket leaves.

Throughout the meal the service was excellent, and our waiter was a fountain of knowledge on both dish content and how they were cooked and sourced.

There is a good selection of desserts, and we choose a pecan nut brownie with milk chocolate mousse €7.50. This had the most c o n c e n t r a t e d blackcurrant sauce with it and was delicious. We also had a vanilla and Baileys parfait, with a compote of summer berries €7.50, it was just perfect. A nice subtle part of the service is that the water glass is changed every time you order a fresh bottle of water.

If you just want to call in for a quick snack you can order toasted scones with jam and cream for €4.50 and a cappuccino for €2.50. On the negative side, the décor is a bit spartan but there are plans to liven it up. If the weather is good you can eat your meal while sitting outside the cottage and take in the views of the castle and Lough Corrib. Total cost €74 plus tip.