Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Groucho's, Armagh

1 The Square, Richhill, Armagh. Tel: 028 3887 1874

By Joris Minne

Richhill lies a mile off the beaten track which is the main road linking Armagh with Portadown. In all the years I lived in Armagh I never made it into Richhill principally because there wasn't anything in it that didn't already exist in the home city.

This situation was reversed a good few years ago with the arrival of Groucho's, the bar restaurant in the village's tiny charming square. Groucho's is unique in that there are no other bar restaurants in the Armagh countryside which achieve quite so successfully that blend of creaking timbers, warm service and robust food.

Do not be put off by the flags in Richhill, the blight of many an otherwise beguiling country town in the north. Sally forth regardless because once inside the cosy confines of Groucho's you won't want to leave.

There are people at the bar watching the football on the telly, servers in black on the move and on constant alert (led by Elaine) and a man with a huge beard in command of everything stands behind the bar. Apparently, the place is named for him because he's supposed to be grouchy. Even if Peter Lynas turns out to be the jolliest bar keeper in Ireland, that great beard of authority immediately puts him in charge.

You could do worse things than take the family somewhere like Groucho's at this time of the year. The surrounding orchards are weighed down with big heavy Bramleys just about ready for the plucking and Armagh itself is marking the apple harvest with the Food and Cider Festival 2017 this weekend (ending tomorrow).

And joy of joys, Groucho's understands its position and its selling point and offers up loads of local. So there is a good choice of ciders (the McIver's Traditional Dry is outstanding) and the beef, lamb, poultry and produce is from the Meat Cleaver butchers in Portadown and various suppliers from nearby.

This is critical. Too many country restaurants and pubs fail to understand their position, not just as a watering hole for their immediate community but potentially as a destination for out of towners and visitors. But no visitor will travel to your pub or restaurant unless there is good reason. And the reason is always simple: to experience something which is unique to the region.

Groucho's understands this. And while the chicken Maryland may appear to you as unsightly, it is nonetheless very good chicken Maryland made with local everything.

The menu is distinctly conventional. Richhillians are not in the business of in-season roast cuckoo chicks served with three-year fermented leeks but nor are they switched on to hot dogs and kebabs from a van.

Country people may be conservative but they know the difference between good and bad food.

This doesn't stop chef Mervyn Steenson from pushing the boat out a little bit. On his Sunday specials list is rump of lamb with curried pearl barley risotto. There are roasted pears and parsnips and a sweet curry sauce.

With autumn approaching, this dish provides great fortification. The sauce might be a bit sweet but the lamb and barley are rich and deep, the sharp sweetness and lightness of the pears and parsnips adding a pleasant balance in counterpoint.

Battered hake with chips, Silverhill duck and that Maryland are all textbook and top of the class. Possibly most memorable is the choice of potatoes and the flavours in each one. Champ is reassuringly heavy and buttery, hand cut chips golden and crispy bursting with earthy flavour, sautéed with chilli and sour crème or with garlic butter, all the potato dishes are among the best you will have in the north.

Dessert proportions are country-big. The dainty sounding lemon tartlet is a vast wedge of short crust pastry with an entire lemon flavoured creme brulee on top; the pavlova is brick sized (but light, airy and covered in fresh fruits) and the Belgian waffles are ridiculously large constituting an entire breakfast.

Groucho's is very good. Playing it safe has its upside because it means predictability. And in this case, predictability is an asset when the food is this good. Look out for Groucho's pop up at the Armagh Cider Company's barn where food and cider pairing will be held in the evening during the Food and Cider Festival.

The bill

Pork belly ....................................... £5.25

Duck spring rolls ............................ £5.25

Goat's cheese tart ........................ £4.75

Silverhill duck............................... £14.95

Lamb rump ................................... £14.95

Chicken Maryland....................... £13.95

Haddock and chips .......................£12.95

Scampi .......................................... £11.95

Sides x 3...........................................£9.75

Lemon torte ................................... £5.25

Waffles x 2 ...................................... £9.00

Pavlova x 2...................................... £9.90

McIver's Cider (500ml) x 4 ......... £15.20

Coffee x 4 ...................................... £8.00

Total............................................ £141.10

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