Ten of the best hotel restaurants for festive feasts

Hotels have come out of the boiled cabbage school of catering to be great places to eat

The Strawberry Restaurant, Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow

The Strawberry Restaurant, Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow

 

In recent history, the Irish hotel was a place where culinary ambition went to curl up and die under a heat lamp. It was the boiled veg school of unremarkable mass catering, fed to a captive audience too tired or boring to search for something better. But the field-to-fork idea has burst through the double doors of the hotel kitchen, with the best chefs looking locally for their ingredients.

A hotel diningroom can be a great venue for a gathering, with more space and variety than the average small restaurant. You don’t have to be a guest to eat at any of these, my pick of the 10 best hotel and guesthouse dinners.

Marlfield House

Rhubarb is all the rage at the House Restaurant, where pink spears from their garden are served in ginger crumble with Cointreau custard. The €64 menu also includes a crab and lemon crumble or house-cured gravalax;mains include Wexford ribeye beef. The Duck Terrace restaurant is more casual, with small plates from €6 up to a lava-grilled Wexford steak for €30. A polite request on menus to turn off phones lets diners really switch off. Courtown Road, Gorey, Co Wexford, 053-9421124

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The Twelve Hotel

At Pizza Dozzina, children get to dress up in chef whites and make their own pizzas – or even a dessert pizza with Nutella and strawberries. The hotel also caters for grown ups with the expert cooking of Upstairs at West Restaurant. Starters (from €6.50) include lobster carpaccio and a study in rabbit. Mains (from €15.90) include catch of the day with dillisk salad and smoked black pudding, and a dry-aged cote de boeuf with Cashel Blue béarnaise and triple-cooked chips. Barna Village, Galway, 091-597003

The Moorings

This guesthouse puts Kerry on a plate. Seafood specialities include Cromane oysters and Portmagee crab. They have Ballinskelligs free range duck, Hartnetts naturally smoked pork, grilled Kerry sirloin steak with Dingle whiskey-flavoured pepper sauce. A Wild Atlantic Way hot seafood platter features a half lobster landed at Portmagee pier. Portmagee, Co Kerry, 066-947 7108

Lough Erne Resort Hotel

The Catalina Restaurant’s menu includes a sweet corn soup with roast caramelised sweet corn, cepes and truffle honey to start. Among the mains, a signature pork dish uses meat from Pat O’Doherty of Fermanagh Black Bacon fame, whose bacon is also found teamed with roast Kilkeel hake (two courses, £40; three, £45). Beleek Road, Enniskillen, Fermanagh, 0044-286632 3230

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Brooklodge

The wild and organic tasting menu (€75) at the Strawberry Tree restaurant takes a ramble through hills and hedgerows, marshes and fields. It includes cured wild sika deer with wild ramson seeds and Denis Healy’s celeriac, and “Ireland’s youngest cheese”, 90 minutes old and made with milk from Ralph Haslam’s Rotbunt herd at Mossfield Farm. For something more traditional, festive afternoon tea (€27.50) includes sandwiches of their own cured spiced beef and house-smoked salmon. Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow 0402-36444

Brooks Hotel

Enjoy Christmas Don Draper-style with steak and a whiskey cocktail (deal from €33.50 for a strip loin with all the trimmings). Steaks come with grilled mushrooms, onions and potato gratin and they’re using Teelings small batch liquers in the cocktails. Drury St, Dublin, 01-6704000

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Mount Juliet Hotel

In The Lady Helen restaurant is fully booked up at weekends before Christmas but has slots during the week for dinner (two courses, €65; €75 three courses). Recent dishes included veal sweetbreads and confit quail leg ro start, and mains like suckling pig with octopus, cabbage and shitake. Thomastown, Kilkenny, 056-7773000

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The Merrion Hotel

A two-course lunch at the Cellar Restaurant (€23.50) includes starters like Skeaghanore confit duck leg terrine, with chanterelles and plum jam. Mains include roast John Stone beef rump and butternut squash cannelloni. Merrion Street, Dublin 2, 01-603 0600

Delphi Resort

Next weekend is the last chance this year to eat at 814 Brasserie, named after the Mweelrea mountain, which sits outside the window. On December 13th it closes until February. Chef Stefan Matz’s five-course table tasting menu (€49; €35 with wine pairing) combines local seafood and organically farmed lamb and beef from Delphi. Leenane, Co Galway, 095-42208

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Castle Leslie

You can eat in Conor’s Bar at the lodge without booking in the next few weeks. Snaffles Restaurant in the upstairs vaulted room has a menu (€65) with old favourites like chicken liver parfait to start, to the wilder terrine of rabbit. Mains include a rare-breed pork plate and roast Silverhill duck with orange marmalade and red currants. Glaslough, Co Monaghan 047-88100