Northern star

EATING OUT: Beef cooked for 36 hours is well worth the wait – especially in this new lakeside restaurant in Lisnaskea, writes…

EATING OUT:Beef cooked for 36 hours is well worth the wait – especially in this new lakeside restaurant in Lisnaskea, writes CATHERINE CLEARY

THIS IS NOT what I call a relaxing Sunday drive. It starts well, down the sun-bright country roads of the north midlands, trees blazing, cattle in fields and cathedral-sized houses around every bend. Then it becomes a race against the clock so I have to peel my white-knuckled hands off the steering wheel when I arrive.

I’m meeting Shane Smith, a man with a beef about restaurants, a foodie publisher who believes Dublin doesn’t have the monopoly on good cooking and there are unsung heroes beyond the places I can reach by bike. Name your favourite, and I’ll meet you there for lunch, I said. So here we are.

The Watermill Restaurant just outside Lisnaskea in Fermanagh has just opened. The new building looks like it was designed in the days before glass and steel, and then baked in an Aga. It is biscuit-coloured stone, with a curved thatched roof, beams and low windows. You almost have to tap the walls on the way in to check they’re not made of gingerbread.

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I am in such a lather when I arrive that I park in front of the best sight of all and fail to see it, a kitchen garden in raised beds, spilling fresh vegetables, flowers and herbs over the tops of the wooden containers, with Lough Erne stretching away beyond it. A chef has just been to pick some fresh produce here. The soil-to-plate time doesn’t get much better than this.

I get a short history of this place before we order. French chef Pascal Brissaud opened this restaurant with rooms in the teeth of the credit crunch. He gets his beef from Fermanagh’s famous Maurice Kettyle, bacon from Pat O’Doherty, whose black bacon pigs are reared on an island in sight of the restaurant, and much of the veg and herbs from his own garden.

Open just a few weeks, the place is already heaving, mostly with family groups of three generations. Glamorous women are rocking babies while grandparents look on fondly. We get a table by the window with a gorgeous view of the water garden and the weedy, low-lying lake beyond. The sun is so strong I have to move my chair to avoid being slow-broiled.

The Sunday lunch menu is three courses for £19.95 (€22.75), and it has the usual Sunday favourites, the prime one being "traditional Irish roast beef." There are no leathery slices drenched in gravy here, as is often the "tradition" with this Sunday staple. The meat is cooked sous vide. They brown the roast on a pan, vacuum pack it and cook it at a low temperature in hot water for 36 hours, a process that makes slow roasting sound like a speed date. After resting, the meat is sliced and served. The description is enough to break a cardinal rule of restaurant reviewing and we both go for the same main course. My bet is that four out of five people are having the beef here today.

I order scallops and Smith orders the confit duck for starters and then we get to talking about the Northern Ireland food scene and how restaurants here don’t seem to be as decimated by events as those down south. My scallops come with a celeriac puree in a trio with the roe on, seared on a hot buttered pan. In the middle of the scallops, the petals of a fresh orange nasturtium flower are just starting to wilt on to the warm flesh. There are squeezy bottle squiggles of a red pepper sauce on the rim of the plate, interspersed with sprigs of fresh edible flowers. It looks wonderful. The duck comes in a tall napkin-style wrapping of crisp filo with a fresh leaf and herb salad on the side.

My scallops are as good as they look, even with the roe which can taste too mealy but doesn’t here. I slide a chunk around the rim to collect the other flavours and a couple of sprigs. The duck is good, juicy and tasty, but a little too heavy on the pastry, which has cooked, in the way that filo does, to the consistency of heavy parchment paper.

A mint sorbet with a tear-drop of chocolate meringue comes next. It’s nice but tastes a little too desserty for me at this stage.

The beef comes with a clump of deep-fried string potatoes on top. They taste like something you would find at the bottom of a crisp bag, in a good way. The beef consists of a thick slice on a bed of mashed potato and also comes with a slightly redundant side order of potatoes, turnip and carrot. It is luscious. We haven’t been asked how we wanted it done. Given the hours of cooking that went into it, that’s not a surprise. (Rare? Come back in 14 hours?) The end result is medium to well done. The only niggle is that it comes on a plate shaped like an artist’s palette, all curves and dips, which makes balancing your cutlery tricky unless you want to stick it into the meat for purchase. Food this good doesn’t need a gimmicky plate.

We drink a glass each of one of the house reds, a French Médoc (at £4.50). Tap water comes in a cooled bottle with a spring lid. For dessert we have the assiette, a "surprise medley" of desserts and a chocolate brownie. My medley consists of a great roast pineapple sorbet, a hazelnut nougat disc with a piece of roasted pineapple on top, and a ditzy take on lemon meringue pie, an upside down dome of lemon mousse glazed with syrup and polka-dotted with fingertip-sized discs of meringue and orange zest. The brownie is square and drenched in the middle with a pool of chocolate sauce. It comes with a ginger sorbet. My desserts are a little too sweet for me. A simple slice of lemon tart would have been perfect.

Coffee and an espresso are a reasonable £1.90 each. This place already requires a booking and I can see why. It’s a refuge for anglers, cruisers and stressed-out Sunday drivers.

Lunch for two with drinks came to £67.30 (€76.75).


THE WATERMILL RESTAURANT

Kilmore Quay Resort, Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh,


TEL:

00-44-28-67724369.

MUSIC:

Light pop, but not too loud

SCENERY:

Gorgeous

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS:

Yes

FOOD PROVENANCE:

Curiously it’s not spelled out on the menu, but ask and they will tell you

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