Restaurant reviews: Lucinda O'Sullivan at The Lodge at Doonbeg, Co Clare
It's not just about the golf at The Lodge at Doonbeg. The food is classy, says Lucinda O'Sullivan, the atmosphere warm and cocooning and the service solicitous and friendly. And you don't have to know your five-iron from your driver to enjoy it
Approaching through the Atlantic mists and the haze of west Clare's mystical wild beauty, the cluster of houses and main building that comprise The Lodge at Doonbeg appeared, shimmering and inviting like the mythical village in Brigadoon.
The Lodge, however, is very real and we wound our way closer through the golf course just as a couple of helicopters disembarked their precious cargo of American golfers. We went under the entrance archway into a cobbled courtyard square, featuring pretty stone-built houses, which are the residential suites. Close by are the White Horse Spa, Golf Shop, and Darby's pub -- not just any old pub, you understand, but the informal end of dining at The Lodge.
The American-owned five-star Lodge at Doonbeg opened in May 2006, and it is a stunning place from start to finish. It was the creation of two men from South Carolina, Buddy Darby and Leonard Long, who have resorts in South Carolina and on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, and they recognised Doonbeg's huge potential as an exclusive golf resort. An inner courtyard leads to the Lodge, which is manor house in style, its sweeping steps taking you into a warm, clubby atmosphere of polished floors and wood panelling. You feel cosy and cocooned while you gaze out at the crashing white horses sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean.
The decor throughout is understated and classy, all done by long-standing, New York-based designer Clodagh O'Kennedy. Service is solicitous in a charming, friendly way.
Wade Murphy, formerly of Lisloughrey Lodge at Cong, is executive head chef. Murphy, a Wexford man, has won various awards for his cooking and has made quite a name for himself out west. His food tends to be classy and contemporary classical.
Dinner in the Long Room restaurant had starters at €12.95-€16.95, including a langoustine ravioli with a spring vegetable fricassee and roasted langoustine cream. Pan-roasted duck foie gras was served with crisp pain d'epice, sous vide chicory, orange and tea-soaked raisins; while roast breast of wild Dromoland wood pigeon came with a black pudding, a Scotch quail egg, braised asparagus and wild mushroom game jus. I had prettily presented mustard and coriander-cured organic salmon (€15.50) which saw four slices fanning down from a tian of sublime Liscannor crab salad, dressed with pea shoots and herbs, vibrant cubes of cucumber and tarragon gelee, and a horseradish creme fraiche. Brendan had Parmesan polenta cake (€12.95) with a deep-fried egg finished with hazelnut veloute.
Mains (€22.50--€36) had pan-seared breast of duck tweaked with a fowl and foie gras roulade, confit potatoes, wilted baby leaves and an orange gastrique. Local produce is big here; Burren hill lamb, from Jack Kelly's of Kilrush, had the loin roasted, the shoulder braised slowly, and was served with Savoy cabbage and a rosemary jus. I had plump fillets of sea bass (€28); the skin was crisp, and the flesh was full, moist and silky, embellished with fat Dublin Bay prawns, a crispy fennel and dill salad and anise puree.
Brendan had a tender lip-smacking seared fillet of beef (€36) from Pat Montgomery's of Ennis, cooked medium rare, sitting on a bed of smoked bacon and braised lentils, with tiny onions, and a wholegrain mustard Bearnaise.
To the side we had copper pots of new potatoes and a melange of mangetout, carrot and cauliflower.
To round off, we shared a cheese plate (€12.50) sporting Bluebell Falls goat's cheese, brie, and Cashel Blue and washed it all down with an Australian Thorn-Clarke Shotfire Quartage 2007 (€35).
Two nights B&B and one dinner in the Long Room restaurant runs from €660 for two. You don't have to play golf to enjoy yourself!
The Lodge at Doonbeg,
Tel: (065) 905-5600