Bistro review: Grant’s Restaurant
29 George’s Street, Omagh. Tel: 028 8225 0900
Years ago I went to Omagh in search of a decent restaurant but could not find one. There were one or two places to eat but the reviews would not have been great and I didn’t want the first write-up from Omagh to be a bad one. Leaves a sour taste in everybody’s mouth. Better to say nothing at all. Same goes for any town I go to the first time. Don’t want to fall out with the locals on first contact.
Some time later I returned and found Vanilla up at the top of the town. This was a wonderfully plain restaurant, almost Shaker in its austerity, but with a great menu built entirely on local game and fish. Imagine all that great produce coming off the slopes and woodlands of the Sperrins. I remember fabulous grouse and pheasant dishes.
Last weekend I was back in Omagh, this time to visit Grant’s, or Ulysseys S Grant’s, to give it its full title. Owned by the McCann family who also manage the excellent McCann’s bar in the town, Grant’s has single-handedly repositioned the Tyrone capital’s culinary reputation.
Few restaurants manage to nail that essence of Ireland, the old fashioned and gentle hospitality and the Fáilte unless they’ve been around for decades. The spirit of the place is enhanced by the warmth and cosiness of an ancient timber bar whose style is lifted almost to the inch from the Doheny & Nesbitt divided counter in Dublin’s Upper Baggott Street. The boss, Myles McCann, says the bar used to be the worktop in an old draper’s shop in Donegal which accounts for its extraordinary colour and solidity. It’s just the place for pre-dinner drinks.
And then there’s the staff. I was alone on a Friday night and a bit self-conscious. I was asked if I’d prefer a little private booth away from the main restaurant at the back and close to the bar where my solitude would be less of a burden to me. How grateful I was. It’s a measure of the level of instinctive hospitality shown in this place.
Kicking off the evening with a bottle of Baronscourt Brewing red ale at the bar the menu and specials of the day were revealed. As was the wine list. I spot a favourite Hungarian dry furmint white but the day’s special is fillet steak with capers and tarragon sauce. A quick conference with bar staff Deborah and Mállaigh and the decision is made: the steak with a carafe of Malbec. What a great call.
But first, the Boilie goat’s cheese starter. A dainty dish featuring little globes of bright white cheese around which are dotted half walnuts and dabs of apple puree, some rocket leaves and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. Everything about this works well. The walnuts are candied, their bitterness replaced by a more intense woody sweetness offering the perfect foil to the smooth, dry goat’s cheese. There’s just enough apple puree on the plate to bind the two. It’s a classic.
The fillet is accompanied by big golden, brittle chips, cracking and splitting to reveal the soft spuddy interior. They’re as good as I’ve had in Michael Deane’s Meat Locker.
The fillet itself is a generous, dark affair, well aged and full of flavour. I’m less convinced by the caper and tarragon sauce which, for me, has too much sourness. The salad with blue cheese and plum tomatoes is on the other hand, exactly the right balance and works in tandem with the meat, just as you might expect a well rendered blue cheese sauce to do.
Mrs McCann is in the kitchen and is the pastry chef. Many years in the US have provided her with the skills to make the best key lime pie you will find this side of the Florida Keys. Seriously. The crumbling, crunchy biscuit base features smashed up hobnobs and is perfectly dry throughout. The creamy, lime filling is buttery and zesty and the whole thing so indulgent and satisfying, its passing comes to quickly. I consider asking for another one.
Instead, a Tír Eoghain Abú cocktail fulfils the role of consoler. Made by Caleb at the bar, the cocktail features Bertha’s Revenge gin, raspberry coulis and aromatic tonic. It is not the ideal digestif but, as an Armagh man, I feel it’s an act of diplomatic entente towards the county facing Dublin a couple of days later. (It’s an excellent cocktail, by the way, but I really should stick to my principle of cocktails before dinner only).
Grant’s is a signal of the re-emergence of Omagh as a most viable tourism destination. A visit to the nearby Ulster American Folk Park, Gortin Glen, the Sperrins, and all that outdoor activity means you need to be able to repair in the evening to somewhere fabulously atmospheric and great quality. Now you can.
Baronscourt red ale £3.95
Goat’s cheese starter £6.50
10oz Fillet £25.95
Carafe Malbec £8.45
Key lime pie £5.50
Tír Eoghain Abú £7.50