Restaurant review: Joris Minne visits Donegal's Harvey's Point
Lough Eske, Donegal Town, Co Donegal. Tel: 00 353-74-9722208
Everybody loves Donegal. Donegal for the holidays, Dublin for the cup. It's the Northern California of Ireland, a place of music, pints, craic agus ceoil, holiday bungalows, cottages and caravans and breath-taking scenery.
I worked abroad for 14 years in various parts of the world and always came across people from Donegal. Why in the name of all that's good would anyone want to leave Donegal, I would ask incredulously. Because of work. The county has a long history of emigration. Not everyone can farm sheep, build holiday homes or drop lobster pots.
But a big employer for the most north western point of Europe is tourism. In recent years some very good pubs and restaurants have emerged and the quality of accommodation has risen sharply. I remember the adviser and I in our very young days were frequent visitors to places like Glenties and Ardara, Carrigart and Downings. We'd book self-catering places for a week or so and invariably would find a man's Y-fronts in the bottom of the bed, or mould growing on the kitchen walls, or there'd be no bedding. It was all a bit dank but sure, it was Donegal and it was gorgeous and who cared!
It's not like that now. My brother and sister have lovely houses at different ends of the county and friends who have impeccable taste rave about Donegal hotels.
The hotel that stands out above all others every year in the annual Restaurant Association of Ireland Awards, is Harvey's Point near Donegal Town. In the hotel is a restaurant I first visited in 1991 with the adviser, barely two years after the place had just opened. Even then it was highly regarded.
A return visit last week for a wedding (thanks to Sarah Kelly and Ben Quinn for the fabulous party) meant total immersion in Harvey's Point for two nights. This kind of 48-hour experience provides you with a full 360-degree, 3-D view of the operation: how it fares for a dinner for two, what the breakfast is like and how it performs as a venue for a very posh function (they had fireworks and everything).
By and large Harvey's Point fares incredibly well and I look forward to a longer stay with family in tow. But there are also pockets of hilarity and the occasional disappointment.
The dining room is a lake-side wonder offering views across Lough Eske even to those at the back of the room, away from the window tables. A warm, pleasantly eccentric decor is comforting and conducive, romantic even.
And that menu is full of excitement. A four-course menu for €59 features a choice of eight starters and six main courses. There's a sorbet break in the middle and a vegetarian option of pappardelle with smoked cheddar, courgette, basil and heritage tomatoes.
A rabbit and ham terrine comes with a counter balance of asparagus, piccalilli, confit'd egg yolk and some unexpected quinoa. This is a beautifully executed starter, simple, sexed up a bit and with some added welcome textures thanks to that quinoa.
An aloo tikki is a vegetarian delight. The Bangladeshi style potato cake has plenty of curry punch, and a weighty mouth feel. It comes with a sweet date and tamarind chutney, with nut podi (a kind of ground nut powder) and, unnecessarily, glass noodles and a julienne of carrots.
The adviser's pair of sea bass fillets are declared to be better than any she has ever had. This is saying something following a summer of top class sea bass and sea bream dishes.
A fillet of Irish rose veal is extraordinary for its flavour and tenderness but badly let down by the accompanying, poorly judged creamy custard. I say custard, but on checking the menu it says malt biscuit, coffee, cepe and watercress. Maybe they changed it at the last minute. But when there was halibut, rotisserie of Irish Hereford or loin of lamb instead, I regret the choice.
Skipping dessert for the cheese, there was a comedy moment in which the adviser was offered a bit of rind to taste the cheese which could not be identified. I don't blame the server; it's the training which let her down, but come on, this is Harvey's Point.
That said, it's a place of comfort, kindly staff and the biggest bedrooms in the business. I would go back in a flash for two reasons: the sidecars in the beautiful Roundhouse bar and the breakfasts.
Dinner x 2 €118