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Award-winning chef Neven's restaurant reopens but with fewer diners and staff


Neven Maguire of MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion

Neven Maguire of MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion

Neven Maguire of MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion

Neven Maguire discovered a new form of mindfulness during lockdown. It's called mowing the lawn.

Up in Blacklion, where Co Cavan nudges the border, the award-winning chef, author and TV presenter and his wife Amelda reopen their MacNean House and Restaurant today.

The chatty chef is raring to go but admits: "We are nervous, I'm not going to lie to you."

Since closing for lockdown, they cancelled 1,600 reservations at their restaurant and B&B accommodation which sits a 'Brexit' bridge away from Belcoo in Co Fermanagh.

Instead of the usual 85-90 diners a night, numbers will be halved from tonight.

"We made a decision that we were going to do meals for residents only. We have 19 bedrooms so we will do less than 40 people for dinner," Neven explained.

"We are going to start off nice and slowly just to give confidence and reassurance to our staff and our customers.

"Every business model is different and we made a decision to just do residents. Everyone was very understanding.

"We had to cancel a lot of non-residents and then cancel Sunday lunch for the time being so we will just gauge it week by week, day by day."

And if the stresses of reopening a Wednesday to Sunday business and keeping the cookery school closed too wasn't enough, today marks the first anniversary of the death of Amelda's mother, Eileen.

"We didn't think about it and then thought, 'God, isn't it amazing that we are opening on Eileen's anniversary?' and she worked in the business too so it's kind of bittersweet.

"It is going to be a very emotional day for everyone," said Neven. "I think it is going to be very challenging for businesses.

"We are lucky that our phone is ringing.

"We opened up our phone lines last week and the phone has never stopped, thank God.

"It's just nice to be in that position.

"You must remember we are open 31 years so we've had tough days when there were just five people in our restaurant," he adds.

Like diners, staff numbers are reduced to 38 per day to run the operation, with different teams serving dinner and breakfast.

Going with the two-metre social distancing rule and a maximum of six guests per table, Amelda said "one hour 45 minutes wouldn't work for us. Our guests need at least three hours for dinner".

Happy to be back in the kitchen again, Neven says they will still have their eight-course tasting menu.

"We are really going to take our time and get this right and give our customers a nice experience.

"They'll be nervous, we'll be nervous and it is just to reassure them that we've taken every precaution."

McNean's restaurant was purchased by Neven's father Joe in 1969, and during the Troubles it was bombed twice.

The father of twins, award-winning chef Neven is no stranger to Northern Ireland, having attended Enniskillen College of Food.

He also worked in the Michelin Starred Roscoff's Restaurant in Belfast.

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