Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: The Stillhouse of Moira: Co Down gastropub that is sure to get you in the spirit

61 Main Street, Moira. Tel: 028 9278 0735

By Joris Minne

Only a week or two ago, I was giving off about the lack of pubs in this country which serve good food. Harry and Meghan's visit to Belfast and their lunch in the Crown Bar highlighted the demand for this kind of food experience. Then, lo and behold, I discover the Stillhouse of Moira (I have little to say about Moira and its fine citizenry other than it is as lovely a place as Hillsborough, ahem).

Something has been happening in Moira of late. New Forge House may have been around for a few years, but it still seems fresh and buzzy. The beautiful Georgian manse's fabulous restoration, its charming, period bedrooms and friendly service are matched by the excellence of the food served there, and one day I will get a chance to review it properly.

Closer to the town centre is a holy trinity in a row - a cafe, a bar and a restaurant: the Fat Gherkin, where the coffee is excellent, the tray bakes vast and warm; Wine & Brine, which has won a hardcore, loving and loyal clientele, thanks to the outstanding quality of the food; and, now, the most recent addition, the Stillhouse.

On the site of the former pub and club known as The Four Trees, the Stillhouse is first and foremost a pub. There are people on stools at the main bar enjoying drinks and it all looks like it's been here for years.

But look a little further and there is more. The Stillhouse will shortly house a distillery where those clever people behind Rubyblue Spirits, makers of potato vodka and various liqueurs, will up stakes from their current home in Lisburn and establish operations here.

But, really, the brother and I are here for the food. A simple and wholesome bar menu operates during the week and then an a la carte and fuller menu are on at weekends.

Starters of beetroot-cured salmon with cream cheese, horseradish and orange, black pudding scotch egg with mustard mayonnaise and Irish ham hock and apricot terrine with cornichons, mushrooms and curried aioli, give you a sense of the measured ambition and relevance.

We were able to try a few, including the salmon (fresh, zingy and plentiful), a black pudding sausage roll with confit hen's egg yoke (if ever the great Sassidge Roll competition is revived, this is a definite contender: crispy, flaky, golden crust with rich, but not overwhelmingly heavy, interior) and cheeky little Clonakilty black pudding fritters with pea puree, whipped goat's cheese and hazelnuts (you could eat those all night).

Mains were as good and I was glad to see Carnbrooke Meats' ribeye served medium-rare with a melange of mushrooms.

This is a fine steak and, while I am a mushroom lover, I'd rather have the bare, meaty flavours uninterrupted. Steak is delicate in flavour, and when it's this good, less frippery is better.

A salted hake with wild garlic from Moira Demesne, buttery samphire and pearl onions comes with a beautifully judged little sauce of stock made from the fish bones, lemon and cream. It's seriously good and the fish is spot on, slipping and flaking away under the knife, effortlessly.

Hickory-smoked Cherry Valley duck breast comes with carrot, black cherry, fondant potato and onion ash. It's a reminder of just how good ingredients in this country can be. In the hands of chef Dave McClelland, they become memorable.

A little bit of showbiz helps the meal along and the Guinness sticky toffee pudding with salted butterscotch sauce and yellowman ice-cream is accompanied by a tiny shot 'pint' of stout.

We are grown men, the pair of us, and yet overcome this maturity to spend the next five minutes Instagramming the tiny pints to exhaustion. A tonka bean creme brulee is textbook. Not an every day sight in Northern Ireland, the tonka bean's sweet flavours are somewhere in the vanilla, woodruff, cocoa field, and this creme brulee makes full use of the interesting sweetness.

The Stillhouse is a revelation. As a pub, it is a beautiful, wood-panelled palace of cosiness, booths and nooks and crannies. It is grand and welcoming, with sure-footed and knowledgeable servers.

Once the entire operation is alive and that distillery is active, it's sure to become a landmark.

The bill

Salmon starter .................................... £5

Sausage roll ........................................ £5

Black pudding fritters........................ £5

Ribeye ............................................... £22

Duck.................................................... £17

Hake.................................................... £17

Creme brulee....................................... £5

Sticky toffee pudding........................ £5

Bottle sauvignon blanc.................... £24

Total ................................................. £105

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