Could Strangford be any more adorable? There aren’t many coastal villages in Ireland which come close to its idyllic little streets and charming harbour. If you had to design your perfect seaside location it would have to be Strangford. Mind you, Portaferry across the Narrows, isn’t far behind.
But today we are in the village where tiny houses with lough views go for mad money. And where there’s money there’s usually somewhere decent to eat. Strangford is blessed with three good restaurants including the Artisan, the Lobster Pot and the Cuan. The last one has been transformed in recent years. Gone is the smell of old frying oil, tired interiors and mediocre food. Instead, there is an attractive bar with a cosy room, a very atmospheric restaurant dining room and a takeaway next door. And the food is good.
The advisor and I made a post-birthday recovery trip to the Cuan in recent days for early tea. It was a Sunday late afternoon and the evening trade was just about to pick up. Which meant we had a great window table in a corner. Wrong table fear is a thing in our house — the advisor scans dining rooms every time for the “best” table. This means the right table has to feature: distance from the bathroom, the bar and the kitchen; proximity to the fireplace and/or window; and if it’s for two people, definitely not in the middle of the room. With four or more people that’s okay. But not two. You feel a bit of a tube out there.
Safely seated the menu soon reveals the levels of culinary comfort in the Cuan. Whole or half lobster and chips, grilled or thermidor; crab and prawn linguine, pan fried seabass, mussels, slow cooked lamb and cornfed roast chicken all come into their own when you’re in a rustic little harbour restaurant. And the starters share the same appeal: potted hot smoked salmon and mackerel, and Mike’s Young Buck pear and walnut tart, neither of which we can go past, are immediately ordered.
The potted pate is generous, full of salty, fishy flavour beneath a layer of fat, like rillettes from Le Mans. Two thick slices of dark wheaten, malty and treacly are in there as reinforcement and a mound of pickled cucumber is just on the right side of sweetness.
The pear and cheese tart is a warm wonder of caramelized pears and tangy blue cheese held together in a shortcrust tartlet. There are some walnuts on top and added excitement surrounding the tart including pesto, rocket and some beetroot sauce. All of this is exuberant if unnecessary as the tart speaks for itself and needs no distractions.
The lobster is ordered plainly grilled and arrives perfectly cooked and split. Robbie Millar of Shanks always told me never to bother with lobster unless I knew for sure that it had been in the sea less than an hour before it was cooked. I cant vouch for the Cuan lobster but it tasted very fresh to her and me. Firm white meat with the slightest chew, adorned simply in melted butter and accompanied by samphire and a salad and some decent skinny chips, this lobster was worth every penny of the £37.
The crab linguine was an almost hit. The pasta just right with a bit of a bite, the crab meat and prawns plentiful and just the right level of chilli heat, I thought this was going to be a belter until the pickled fennel started making its presence felt. I took out as much of it as I could to regain some balance between the flavours and it worked well then.
The Cuan is a good experience. Staff are kind and welcoming. They are also experienced and capable and this means the machinery and gentle buzz of a successful restaurant adds confidence and a sense that you are in good hands. If you’re buying a house in Strangford, the Cuan will become your local.
It’s the essence of the town now.
Potted hot smoked salmon £9
Young Buck pear tart £8.50
Whole lobster £37
Crab and prawn linguine £23
The Cuan, 6-12 The Square, Strangford, County Down. www.thecuan.com