Monday, 3 January 2011

North West Ireland - Lough Erne Golf Resort

Ireland isn’t really known as a foodie hotspot but rumour has it that it maybe should be. On a tip-off, I headed to the Fermanagh Lakelands, a rural area in the North West of Ireland, to see whether it has what it takes to be the next food-destination. Here's the piece which I wrote for The Culinary Guide.

The heart of Fermanagh is Lough Erne, which actually refers to not one but two large lakes in the area which have formed from the River Erne which runs straight through. As such, the town of Enniskillen in which they lie is effectively Ireland’s Lake District. Leaving behind first London and then Belfast, the tranquility of Enniskillen is immediately apparent, tangible in the quietness, stillness and pureness of the air. It would be hard to imagine anywhere better suited to a weekend of peace and tranquility, but if this is to be a new foodie hotspot it needs something with a bit more bite…

Setting out to explore the local area for things to do, I didn’t really get very far – I didn’t need to. Staying at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, I had everything I could need in-house. And by in-house, I actually mean within the 600 acre peninsular on which the resort is situated. For the golf enthusiast, the resort is obviously ideal thanks to the newly built Faldo Course - designed by world-class golfer Nick Faldo - which is already winning all kinds of awards and will be entering the prestigious World Top 100 Courses list next year. For those less keen on golfing, like myself, try doing the course without any clubs – that is just for the walk. Spread across 300 acres alongside the Castle Hume Lough and through spectacular woodland, it’s worth it for the scenery alone. If you’re extra keen, you could even leave the confines of the resort and head out into some truly wild woodlands, though it doesn’t really seem necessary.

If all the hills have tired you out, a spa treatment may be in order. It needn’t be just any spa treatment, though. Who would have thought that this golf resort in a small Irish town would be the only place outside of Asia to offer the complete Thai spa treatment range? Try an Exotic Rain Shower or a Cleansing Mud Rasul and let the trained professionals flown over from Thailand eek out any last drop of stress the tranquility of the location hasn’t already removed from your body.

Relaxed, hungry and back on focus, there’s plenty of food to explore – and once again, leaving the resort is entirely optional. There are currently four eateries within the grounds and the food focused team are on the case with a few more for next year, too.

The Catalina Restaurant is the show-off joint, headed up by Northern Ireland’s chef du jour Noel McMeel who is probably most famous for his appearances on two series of BBC2’s Great British Menu. The restaurant’s philosophy is to highlight the best Ireland has to offer with a firm focus on local, regional and seasonal. Though his cooking is anything but basic (he’ll cook a fillet of vacuum-packed beef for 4 hours in a water-bath in order to create the optimum succulence), the end result is all about the ingredients. A regular crowd-pleaser is Venison from the nearby Colebrook Estate, where Lord and Lady Brookeborough allow Japanese Seeker Deer to live it up, roaming free and building up both flavour and fat before meeting their eventual fate in the Loch Erne kitchen as a delicious starter of cured venison carpaccio. Another is local Dexter beef which gets its unrivaled flavour from intricate marbling. The restaurant showcases these producers and others at their regular Foodmakers’ Dinners – an indication of how they value both the produce and the producers, reinforcing their “field to fork” motto.

The Blaney Bar, also headed by Noel, sticks to the same values but takes the formality down a step or two and offers an interesting ‘grazing’ menu. This effectively means you get small dishes of food and order more than one – an ideal way to get to try more of the modern-meets-traditional slightly more ‘out there’ menu which includes Goats’ Cheese Bon Bons and Chicken Maryland with Banana Puree.

The Loughside Clubhouse Bar & Grill offers another dining option specializing in all things Dexter Beef including steaks, burgers, club sandwiches and a wholesome Steak and Guinness Pie; whilst The Garden Hall offers a range of truly sophisticated afternoon teas featuring home-made scones, pastries and both the filling and bread for sandwiches, along with Lough Erne’s house Champagne, the yeasty, lees-flavoured Billecart Salmon Rose.

With all that food, plus a couple of complimentary chocolates on your bedside, you’re bound to sleep well and from my experience Lough Erne’s beds must be among the most comfortable in Ireland. The only thing that could possibly keep you awake is the stunning view of the lakes from your window, though it’s unlikely to cause you too much of a problem. If you’re in need of a nightcap, simply head down to the bar for a whiskey. Having paired up with and trained at Bushmills Distillery, the staff will be able to guide you through a list of over 100 Irish whiskeys – and you can even book your own course at the hotel. Sleeping over, the Catalina Restaurant offers a breakfast worth waking up to. There’s a cold buffet of meats, cereals and home-made breads and pastries, traditional Irish porridge, smoked haddock, a gloriously smooth kedgeree and, of course, the full Irish. Consisting of sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding, white pudding and fried potato bread it should sustain you for a good few rounds of golf.

Leaving the resort full, contented and refreshed I feel I have been to something of a foodie mecca. In reality, of course, I have simply been to one resort – the Lough Erne Golf Resort. I imagine the rest of North West Ireland has plenty more to offer, as the Colebrook Estate venison and Dexter beef farms exemplify. What the area needs, though, is an ambassador to stand up and shout about the produce available and that is what Lough Erne Golf Resort is doing, working with Good Food Ireland, highlighting local producers and pairing up with local cookery schools and food businesses in order to offer visitors the full gastronomic experience. The local foodie community must be grateful for the publicity the resort is giving North West Ireland - unless, of course, the locals want to keep their produce to themselves…and I wouldn’t blame them a bit if they did.

Lough Erne Golf Resort in the heart of Fermanagh Lakelands is approximately 90 minutes drive from Belfast and two hours drive from Dublin. The resort offers a range of transfers from Dublin, Belfast International and Belfast City airports including helicopter, seaplane and limousine. Flights are available to Belfast or Dublin from most UK airports.

For more information about getting to Lough Erne Golf Resort visit
For more on Northern Ireland visit

>> Originally published on The Culinary Guide

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