In the 1973 western High Plains Drifter, a moody Clint Eastwood rides into the little dust-swept town of Lago, where he discovers the place is gripped in a reign of terror by outlaws.
When we drove up on a dark and wind-swept night to The Tannery outside Moira, I had the distinct impression of landing up on a similarly isolated Western set. I have no idea if it’s built-up in or around The Tannery’s car park, it was as black as coal that night, but it felt like we were in the middle of a desert with the bull’s head and horns above The Tannery’s door casting odd and very New Mexican shadows from the lights below.
I love a bit of Western kitsch and considering Northern Ireland is the spiritual home of Country and Western, it’s surprising there isn’t more of this kind of thing about the place. But then when we stepped around the locked front door to the side entrance and walked past a bamboo furnitured beach terrace, I realised we might have been slightly wrongfooted.
Once inside, instead of the rough wooden floors, Hank Williams soundtrack and Coors Light neon signs, there were sharp modern angles, ceiling-to-floor drapes, a huge mirror and a sign to the bistro on the left or the carvery in the restaurant to the right.
Upstairs, the bistro turned out to be a wholly unexpected and very compelling carnival of wacky post-modernism, shark-themed wallpaper, cow-skinned high tables and large, round booths with mock rose-wood tabletops and high-backed creamy leatherette banquettes.
Staff were quick to get the four of us seated at one of the huge booths and we settled in happily surveying the busy, but hushed restaurant.
On The Tannery’s website promises of platters to be shared and plenty of edgy dishes seemed hard to resist. But this was Sunday. And, as with so many restaurants on the Sabbath, the menu had reverted to the mid-Seventies. There was roast rib-eye with Yorkshire pudding and gravy, roast turkey with mash, pan-fried salmon, gammon with pineapple, roast leg of lamb with broccoli.
I asked about the website stuff and the server helpfully offered to see if there was anything in the kitchen that might match it but, it’s Sunday, he explained, and Sundays are different.
They certainly are in Northern Ireland. You’d think after almost three years of eating every single week in a northern restaurant that I’d have copped on that maybe Sunday was not the right day to head out to do a review. So I pledged never to do one again on a Sunday. Note to self: this is the last one.
But then when the prawn and avocado ceviche cocktail with marie rose dressing and wheaten bread arrived, it was not run-of-the-mill at all. The clue was in the word ceviche (or Cheviche, as The Tannery spelled it). With seafood ceviche it means the prawns are marinated in lemon or other citrus juice until cooked rather than cooked in heat. It was entertaining and intriguing and despite the discomfort of a citrus bitterness married to marie rose, it worked well.
The grilled goat’s cheese crostini with balsamic glaze and aubergine and cashew chutney was equally interesting and the combination was a great exercise in textures. The flavours were a bit weak, but it worked.
Daughter number one went native and had the roast rib-eye. The Yorkshire pudding was a colossal affair, the size of a queen’s crown, beautifully finished and generously doused with rich meaty gravy. The mash was fresh and creamy with proper spuddy presence.
The Tannery goes large on the steaks and there’s a choice of sirloin, rib-eye and fillet in various sizes, with which you can order béarnaise, cashel blue melt, Jack Daniel’s peppercorn sauce or chimichurri olive oil-based Argentine steak sauce.
My fillet with béarnaise did its job. Although I had asked for it rare, it came closer to medium but the outside was so well charred and the béarnaise so buttery, I was happy.
The adviser’s rib-eye was overdone and on the cold side. Steaks that are lukewarm are a good sign. They should have plenty of time to rest after coming out of the pan. But hers was well done and the chimichurri didn’t hack it at all. It was largely flavourless. I asked for more béarnaise and gravy and these were delivered in an instant. The adviser perked up with the béarnaise.
Children’s menus can be repetitive, but this one is different — the familiar suspects are there including the goujons and the sausages, the chips and the ice cream. But there was also a very decent chicken wrap packed with crunchy lettuce and other goodies. And what chicken pieces I saw on the small plate were good quality and plentiful.
The Tannery is an extraordinary-looking place. Its interior is like no other. It is properly fabulous. A quick look at the restaurant and bar confirmed that the décor is as entertaining as the food and drink. And it’s a Patterson house, which means the food is reliable ... and during the week it dares more than on a Sunday.
Prawn ceviche £6.75
Cheese crostini £6.25
Chunky chips x 2 £5.90
Desserts x 2 £9.90
Sunday set menu £16.95
Diet coke X 2 £3.20
Large sparkling water............. ..£3.95
Campo vieja £16.50