Restaurant review: Angler's Rest - the only thing off colour is the paint
660 Seacoast Road, Magilligan, Limavady. Tel: 028 7775 0600
I had been trying to get to the Angler's Rest by Benone Beach ever since chef Paula McIntyre had sung its praises to me months ago, insisting we must go there for lunch. Many failed attempts to find a mutually convenient date followed and in the end a window during which I could jump in the car and go there alone opened up. Turns out Paula also had a moment the next day, so we were both there, alone, within 24 hours.
As with any long-haul drive from Belfast I wondered, was it going to be worth it? I consoled myself with the thought that a bad review is always easier to write, so either way it would be a win-win.
The restaurant, lonely and isolated on a stretch of road between the magnificent steep rise of Binevenagh and the vast sands of Benone strand, does not offer a good first impression to the tired traveller.
It starts with arrival at what looks like a roadside Irish cottage but painted MoD bunker grey. It has the lovely Angler's Rest logo sign on it but, God, that paint?
But this must not put you off, as I discovered minutes later. I walked into an entirely empty bar. At each end of the classic Irish pub interior are two fireplaces, both log fires roaring. A couple of seconds later a young woman appears, all smiles, and asks, "Are you here for lunch?".
After that, the place starts filling up and, within minutes, there's the buzz of hungry visitors and travellers who have also heard about the delights of this deceptively and unexpectedly fabulous wee place.
The menu is distinctly pub but only at first glance. There's ham and eggs, bangers and mash, beef pie and fish and chips.
Take a closer look and the ham and eggs is actually a slow-cooked hock from nearby Corndale Farm. It has been glazed with Irish black butter, the intriguing dark spread made from apples, and it comes with Corndale's own chorizo, used to make a rich hash with potatoes and two fried eggs on top.
It is astonishingly well made - the meat glides away from the bone like two ballroom dancers separating in mid-dance. The flavour of the pork is as deep and salty as you have ever had it and the rich egg yolks add a wintry support to this big dish.
In the interests of research and any future questions, I have the chowder to start. This is as good as Niall McKenna's in James Street, beautifully balanced and generous in salmon, hake, prawns and other bits and pieces I cannot identify (but very, very few spuds) and a cake-like slice of nearly black, crumbling Guinness bread. A lick of Broighter Gold oil over the top actually adds a visually attractive touch (and it is from just around the corner).
Angler's Rest has a 484 menu, which means that for £16 you can eat like medieval Irish nobility. There is ham hock terrine with house pickles, toasted sourdough and celeriac remoulade, crispy pork croquettes with Bramley apple puree and wholegrain mustard, crispy smoked haddock and seafood fishcakes - and that's just for starters.
Among the mains are vintage cheddar and onion pie, braised angus ragu and even homemade meatballs. There is much more but, in effect, the price largely makes up for the drive there because, honestly, you will not get this quality for miles.
And then there's the service. Husband and wife team Thomas and Patricia Deighan are the kind of hospitable pair who just want people to come back, and to secure that repeat, they know they have to be brilliant. The thing is, they make it look easy.
Chris Furey and Chris Fitzwilliam in the kitchen are class acts, as is Emma behind the bar, at welcoming, taking orders, pulling pints, stoking the fires and generally being the kind of hostess every bar and restaurant in Ireland needs.
My advice is to get there as quickly as you can because there will soon be a rush. And don't let that paint put you off.
Chowder (Starter size)....................... £4
Ham & eggs special ..................... £12.95
Orange posset .................................... £4