Le Catalina, Lough Erne Resort, 193 Lough Shore Road, Enniskillen. Phone. : 028 6632 3230
ow winter is here this drive to Enniskillen from Belfast is a joy. Slow tractors and trailers are gone and all the trucks still in motion are in a hurry. This means that Lough Erne Resort is now much closer to us city dwellers. And yet, once you’ve stepped through those awe-inspiring gates and started the slow, woodland climb to the hotel and finally reach the resort’s front door, you could be millions of miles away.
The model is very American country club. Everything is neat. No steel wall ashtrays spilling out of the door. But there is soul here too. The staff have that well-judged, easy-going Fermanagh informal character, while providing the instinctive service they know you are paying for.
And it’s busy. Getting a table for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Catalina, before Christmas was a challenge. Catalina has developed her own reputation. Executive Chef Noel McMeel has always been good enough to make the restaurant a winner. This year he was a strong contender for Food & Wine Magazine’s Hotel Restaurant of the Year final, an award he won four years ago.
Catalina has become a destination in its own right. I was here a few years ago and loved the dining area before I even sat down. It had the same effect last weekend. It has to be one of Ireland’s most elegant hotel dining rooms, the lighting infusing the place with golden warmth, the linen-covered tables and the overstuffed chairs positioned for maximum privacy all around. allowing you to be part of the tranquil ambience and atmosphere.
Fortunately, the menu is a la carte. I was prepared for a tasting menu but instead there are starters, main courses and desserts. Add the “Trois Aboriginals” appetizers and petits fours with your coffee and it’s technically a five-course dinner. These appetizers set the scene: Lough Neagh smoked eel is nicely placed in the middle, surrounded by little apple gels and a finely carved potato crunch, offering an array of textures and flavors in a small edible haiku.
Among the starters, the game terrine with brioche and cherry confit, the Fermanagh pigeon tart with mushroom cream, autumn pear, blackberry and truffle. The Councilor’s Halibut is surrounded by a smoked cream of leek and red pepper stew, bisque-colored and bursting with Goatsbridge trout roe. The mixture is surprising and works well.
The Kilkeel scallops are nicely seared and enhanced with a little beef jus and accompanied by an oyster in its shell drizzled with elderberry vinegar and placed on a small bed of warm and still steaming grass. It sounds ostentatious and unnecessary, but it is quite appropriate for the environment.
Chef Stephen Holland recommended the venison loin which is accompanied by a delicious artichoke cream (Jerusalem) and hazelnut puree and a deliciously rich and smoky juniper juice. The loin of venison is out of this world, dark, half-cooked, more swastika than the others I have tasted lately and generous. There is a bright orange sea buckthorn gel whose acidity collides with the heat of the artichoke. Some will appreciate the bitterness that makes your eyes drool, but such is the warm, soothing flavor of everything else on the plate, including the vegetable tart that I don’t want to take away from the comfort.
The Advisor’s Lisdergan beef tenderloin is a triumph, and his business includes celeriac and braised beef cheek, spinach, and Madeira juice. I steal a fork and make a note to try next time.
Chef Holland is a master of detail and has the confidence to prepare these exciting dishes. A side dish of crushed carrots and turnips and mash reminds us of the sublime joy of simple home cooking and pairing them with the exquisite arrangements on the table is both humorous and a reminder that we are in Ireland, even if it sounds like a Virginia Country Club.
The law project
Beef tenderloin 35
Chocolate delight 12
140 in total