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Restaurant review: Wine and Brine in Moira

59 Main Street, Moira. Tel: 028 9261 0500

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Wine and Brine

Wine and Brine

Wine and Brine

Northerners are not snobby. Anyone showing signs of getting above themselves (change of accent, concrete lions at the driveway gates, frequent use of supermarket delivery service) will soon receive reminders, usually from primary school acquaintances who know the truth, that they're no better than anybody else and to wise up.

Class consciousness is not the Ulster way. It may have some resonance in Dublin where titles still matter, kind of. But up here, there's no class in being enviably rich and wealthy. In fact, some of the really wealthy people I know play the whole thing down and like to talk about football, potato bread and Donegal.

But Belfast people do have a peculiar disdain for country ones. This is about urban superiority, about being smart, unlike culchies who are thick. Culchies like Seamus Heaney, Brian Vallely, Joanne Quigley, all internationally recognised names in their worlds of literature, painting and music; writers, actors and musicians like Dara Carville, Bronagh Waugh, Michelle Fairley, Paul Muldoon, Barry Devlin, Liam Neeson, Adrian Dunbar ... culchies, all.

Same goes for the culinary arts. If it's not in Belfast, it's not worth leaving town for. So, today I give you Wine & Brine in the delightful Co Armagh village of Moira.

If you haven't been yet, you're in for a surprise. When it opened four years ago, Chris McGowan and partner Davina had recently returned from London following a long, glittering partnership with Richard Corrigan. It was an instant hit.

Moiranians loved it because it served recognisable roast classics, while the city slickers held their breath long enough to complete the 18-mile journey from town for the crispy olives, sausage rolls and the famous beef and tongue pie.

Last Sunday, in celebration of International Women's Day, four women accompanied me to lunch. They included two daughters, the adviser and my mother-in-law. Three generations and a vegetarian all found something to drool over in the menu. Crispy cod cheeks twice-baked, three-cheese souffle, shellfish cocktail, crab brioche roll ... roast rump of lamb, Greencastle sole on the bone, steak pie, wild Irish rabbit...

In the end, the choice was almost impossible so we had to over-order, naturally. Which means that all of the above starters were savoured and relished, not one disappointing or falling below the next.

There is a magic thing McGowan does to amplify the flavour of the prawns in the shellfish cocktail. He creates a briny, cold-water, shivery flavour which is as fresh and invigorating as a swim in the March sea.

The crispy cod cheeks are no longer the poor man's scallops but the reverse, more subtle, less gelatinous and, dipped in the oyster mayo, hard to leave alone.

The souffle is a triumph of lightness over intensity, with all the deep flavours of mature cheeses without the heaviness.

And the crab brioche roll is the happy fusion of sweet and salt, cold and warm, lushness and bite.

The sausage roll with house ketchup is another wonder, the pastry flaky and golden, the meat within braised, robust and beefy.

It's all so wonderful that forkfuls are being swapped around the table to see who got the best starter. It's a five-all draw.

The rabbit is a delicate roast of fine, tender pink meat poised atop a toasted sandwich of salty braised meat and served with baked carrot topped with a warm onion chutney and a mustard-seed gravy. It exudes great wafts of French charcuterie scents and flavours.

The great white chunk of cod is textbook with a super-crispy and brittle skin, glacial white flakes of meat sliding off each other at the merest prod, and supported by salsify and mussels in seaweed butter.

The beef pie is accompanied by a slice of rare, dry-aged steak, and is judged by the adviser as one of the memorable dishes of her life. The 28-day sirloin, whose accompanying Yorkshire pud towers crazily above it, is alive with old fashioned, nostalgia-prompting roast flavours.

Desserts are just as exciting and I've enough room left to tell you that the miso caramel pie takes that whole salty-sweet thing to a new level.

Wine & Brine. So good it should be in Belfast. (Sorry, culchies.)

The bill

Shellfish cocktail x 2 £14

Cod cheeks £7

Souffle £7

Sausage roll £7

Crab brioche x 2 £14

Roast beef x 2 £34

Steak pie £22

Cod £17

Rabbit £17

Miso caramel pie£6

Rhubarb and ginger doughnuts£6

Spice cake£6

Coffees x 4 £11.50

Bottle Stellenrust Chenin Blc £44

Total £212.50

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