The Hodson Bay Hotel, L’Escale restaurant
Athlone, Co. Westmeath, Ireland
The Hodson Bay Hotel is situated on the edge of Lough Ree, a beautiful setting in the heart of the country and only an hour from Dublin now the new motorway is open. The hotel is tucked in off the Roscommon road, down a beautiful driveway. Set a little way back from the shore, the hotel has a fine view of the lake.
The main dining room here is the L’Escale restaurant, a fine dining experience the Hodson Bay offer to their guests. A large room split in the centre, the ceiling is supported by large marble columns. All the tables are fully set with fine white linen and a fabulous display of orchids as a centre piece. The room is dotted with paintings and all tables are lit with a tea light while the ceiling is covered in dimly lit spots. We sat at a table by the windows, which look into a corridor of seating, which again overlooks the lake.
There's a set menu for dinner, priced at €38.50 for three courses and €31.50 for two. There's plenty of choice -- it listed eight starters and 10 main courses, so it took a while to make our decisions.
I was torn between the Kataifi tiger prawns served with chilli jam and the Peking Silver Hill duck parcel, I finally decided on the duck which was served with apricot puree and Hoisin reductions. My husband was vacillating between the pear and Cashel blue salad, the pork belly and the chilled tian of smoked chicken; but in the end he went with the smoked chicken which came with a green lentil salad, crispy bacon and a tarragon dressing.
It says something for changing eating habits when you find a choice of three fish dishes in a Midland restaurant. Sea bass, halibut and monkfish were all on and I chose the Cajun monkfish tail which came with guacamole, crème fraiche potato and lemon butter with a side salad and chips.
Of the meats there were steaks, venison and duck. He chose the Wicklow venison loin coated in brown sugar and pepper with red cabbage and chocolate vinaigrette, this came with a large selection of seasonal veg and gratin potatoes.
Next, I turned to the wine list. Usually hotel wine lists carry a higher mark-up than restaurant ones, but that isn't the case here. There are house wines for less than €20 and the remainder of the list is mostly between €20 and €30. For those willing to spend more, there are a couple of Gran Reservas from Spain -- the Faustino Primero 1998 for €46 and the Marques de Caceres 2001 for €49.50, either of which I'd drink with much pleasure.
What we ordered though, was a delicious half bottle of Sancerre Jean Max Roger at €21.50 to accompany the monkfish, while Fred went with a half of Fleurie Joseph Drouhin at €17.50 to match the venison.
With the decisions made, we started on the breads -- four different ones and all good. As ever, a big bottle of mineral water quenched my thirst before the starters arrived.
As I had expected, both of the starters were well done, the salad nicely dressed and the duck parcel full of duck. The chicken tian was full of taste and the presentation certainly takes attention to detail to another level.
The main courses arrived, the plates bearing just the main choice, the vegetables of the day being served separately. I had three large pieces of monkfish served on the crème fraiche potato and drizzled with the lemon butter. Fred’s venison was served sliced on a bed of braised red cabbage; it had been cooked to perfection and just as requested. We both thought that the combination of cabbage and the chocolate vinaigrette went well together.
We let a little time pass before we were able to think of desserts, but we did eventually order one to share; an Assiette of desserts which gave us a taste of Italian cheesecake and warm chocolate brownie which was scrumptious.
We finished with a tea and espresso and just continued to soak in the relaxed atmosphere of the dining room.
The next morning we both enjoyed an aqua aerobics workout in the leisure centre and then swam between the Jacuzzi and the hydrotherapy pool working off all the calories before we enjoyed a stroll down by the lake before embarking on the drive back home.