Restaurant review: Wine & Brine in Moira
59 Main Street, Moira. Tel: 028 9261 0500
Moira, the poor man's Hillsborough, is more than a dormitory town. Not entirely sure whether it's an Armagh or Down town, it is home nonetheless to some of the best farm produce in the north. Is it any wonder that Peter Hannan and his butchers set up home in Moira? He could see that it lies in a kind of convergence of agri-food ley lines which is home to some of the best quality beef, pork, lamb and vegetables.
This is the region which has given Northern Ireland the beginnings of an international reputation as a food-growing paradise.
Surprisingly, however, Moira is low on good restaurants. There is the very nice Newforge House a couple of miles out of town, where the breakfasts, lunches and dinners are all a celebration of locally sourced food. There are also one or two decent pubs located in the town, but there wasn't anything of note, until now.
With the arrival of wonder chef Chris McGowan, Moira's newest restaurant, Wine & Brine, should help put the place on Northern Ireland's emerging culinary map.
Chef McGowan is one of the best to have sprung from the loins of Ulster and he picked up many good habits working with Richard Corrigan in London for more than a decade.
He is disciplined and focused. There is none of that swivel-eyed excitability you can get from chefs. Au contraire, there is a steeliness, a determination; you can tell that whatever Chris McGowan puts his mind to, he will do it with precision and absolute commitment.
Wine & Brine opened its doors just in time for Christmas. Within minutes of opening, it was the talk of Moira. The food was heavenly, the front of house polished, friendly and expert. But, my God, what were they thinking when the interiors were done?
I quickly headed down there to meet local Moira man Adam McConnell, the man who knows about restaurant branding and design, for lunch. A few days before Christmas, it was bright and sunny. The dining room benefits from an extensive skylight which lets in loads of natural light and bathes the diners beneath in bright, almost clinical luminescence.
This would be fine, except the centre of the dining room is a bit functional and charmless. The surrounding walls carry a banquette the whole way round and there are some very interesting composite pictures of Irish writers on the walls.
However, the three dark wood tables in the middle of the room look forlorn and awkwardly close to the open kitchen from which McGowan dispenses his classy dishes.
But never mind this, because for £3 he produces a crispy hen egg on top of a cylinder of leek and truffle crumbs, a starter which is even better than the sinfully good crispy olives with goats cheese we had earlier. The wintry flavours and textures of the tangy leeks, the oozing warmth of the yolk escaping from the crisped egg white and the breathy truffle crumbs create a blissful moment of tranquillity.
It really was that good.
But the tongue and cheek pie, the dish which enhanced McGowan's name following his performance on Great British Menu, is something which should be on everyone's bucket list. Four or five slices of beautifully pink, tender and moist prime rib on top of a bell-shaped, short crust pie with chunks of tongue, beef, turnip and carrot inside made this one of the most memorable dishes I've eaten this year.
The beefiness of the prime rib, the sweet and slightly sour notes of the pie's innards and that gravy and mash will forever be the celebration of winter on a plate.
A braised beef bourguignon for Adam had a similarly disabling impact and both of us rejoiced in the brilliance of it all and the fact that the mains cost £8.
This is sensational value for money. Chris McGowan says he wants to compete with the restaurants and cafés in Moira and I reckon if he can do something about the interior of Wine & Brine he will be competing head on with Niall McKenna and Michael Deane's currently unassailable restaurants.
Crispy olives £3.50
Hens egg and leek x 2 £6.00
Beef special x 2 £16.00
Sprout tops £3.50
Glass Esporao £5.50