Blessed Parson: A must visit destination for foodies
Parson's Nose - 48 Lisburn Street, Hillsborough - Tel: 028 9268 3009
Chef Danny Millar is the great equaliser. Originally from gritty, urban north Belfast, Danny has no issues adapting to gentrified country life and loves nothing better than a bit of foraging in deepest Down, shooting wood pigeon or cantering on horseback to the Parson's Nose, his restaurant in Hillsborough, every morning wearing expensive and stylish Irish tweeds (I made up the horse bit).
For dapper Danny Millar it doesn't matter where he is or who he's with: it's the food and the craic that matter. Which is why the three top restaurants in which he is executive chef are so popular.
Balloo House and Poacher's Pocket join the Parson's Nose in the Balloo Inns restaurant trinity where quality local ingredients and produce are transformed into the kind of dishes that you want to go back to time after time.
And so it is with the newly refurbished Parson's Nose. The extensive reworking of this historic former bar has created a modern, rustic and comfortable dining room with hipster mossy greens and greys, timbers and comfortable club chairs and banquettes.
Service is attentive and charming, informal and informed. The Sunday menu is distinctive featuring a memorable crab linguini and other pasta dishes, pizzas, burgers, fish on the bone, pot stickers and a selection of Hannan steaks.
Five of us dropped in last Sunday and proof of Parson's Nose quickly re-established popularity following its reopening lay in the selling out of some dishes including the mussels. But there was plenty left to choose from. That crab linguini for instance, was a knockout. Available as a starter or main, the small one was generous to the point of constituting a lunch on its own. The linguini, al dente, provided a nest for the warm gathering of crab meat strands present throughout and mixed in with delicate garden peas, chilli gremolata and brown butter bread crumbs it was a walk in the sea breeze, a delight.
Wood-fired Portavogie prawns with local artisan chorizo, red peppers, orange gremolata and a big slice of toasted sourdough were equally voluminous and plentiful and full of fresh, Mediterranean flavours. Garlic butter prawns can often be overwhelmingly heavy and greasy and this was a different thing entirely: light and refreshing and packed with the kind of briney flavours and firm textures you always hope for when ordering langoustines (and which are often dashed by poor cooking skills).
A plaice on the bone was flawless although I'd like to have had it with the full head and tail on. People here are squeamish about that kind of thing, though, so chefs tend to do the decent thing for those who'd rather not stare their food in the eye.
There are salads, woodfired this and that and an entire section given over the grilled meats.
The cured pork chop, the various fillets, marinated rump steaks, sirloin and rib eye are all from Hannan's in nearby Moira. This is the kind of chunky, quality eating we love: Parson's Nose has a dash of the American diner for informality but the quality of the food on the table is undeniable.
And it's clever. If most of us can only really get out with the family for a meal on a Sunday, look at how Danny reels in the weekday diners between noon and 6.30pm: Caprese salad with Toonsbridge mozzarella, heirloom tomato, balsamic vinegar, virgin olive oil (£7), baked hake, buttered potatoes, spring vegetables, basil pesto (£10), chargrilled chicken caesar, baby gem, kalamata olives, parmesan, sourdough croute (sml £7/lrg £10), 7in Margarita pizza with super salad (£9), monkfish scampi with mushy peas, triple cooked chips, tartar sauce (£10) or crab on toasted sourdough with dill, tarragon, asparagus (£9). Hillsborough quality at Moira prices!
Designated drivers are an essential component to the success of these out-of-town restaurants and the evidence shows that these drivers must be in abundance. But when you can get a decent bottle of Picpoul for £22 in Parson's Nose, it makes the price of a taxi from Belfast (£25?) worth the trip.
Danny the equaliser is a democrat and he has succeeded in making great food accessible to many. Long may the Parson's Nose continue!
Prawn starters x 4 £28 Baked brie £6.50
Beef burger x 2 £24
Whole plaice x 3 £42
Fruit tart £6
Toffee pudding £6
Coffees x 4 £8.25
Diet coke x 2 £4
Lrg sparkling water£3.80