MacNean House & Restaurant: Irish food and hospitality at its finest
Hidden away in county Cavan, right beside the border with Nothern Ireland, MacNean House is one of the most famous restaurants in Ireland. Neven Maguire, the chef whose TV fame drives so many people to the remote village of Blacklion, doesn't need any introduction to an Irish audience. I am lucky enough to know him and when he kindly invited us to come over to Blacklion, we got more excited than kids on Christmas morning knowing that they'll get a puppy.
After a stop at the Taste of Cavan, which gave me the chance to grasp some local produce such as a 95% dark chocolate from Áine and a hot pepper jelly, we arrived at MacNean in the afternoon, just in time for a quick nap. #dontjudge #ilovesleeping
Around 5.30pm, all the guests booked in for the 6 pm service were invited to go to the bar for a pre-dinner drink. Our G&T came with some caramelised pecans and savoury meringue which felt like pieces of heaven, especially since we hadn't eaten all day.
The menu requires you to choose between the Prestige or the Vegetarian menu, both priced 85 euro, yet the staff encourages you to pick items from either of them should you want to, which I did. Both are 6 courses, not including the bread and the coffee and petits fours. We both went for the wine pairing, which adds an extra 50 euro to the menu. It was absolutely worth it, as the sommelier impressed us with her choices which complemented every dish incredibly well. While most wine pairings usually involve sample-size-glasses, the pouring is quite generous in MacNean house, much to our delight.
As the waiters started to bring the food, it seemed quite clear to us that the chef has a clear plan: using the best of what the Irish land and sea can produce to turn it into the most tasteful yet homy experience. Using local ingredients when possible, the dishes boast an elegant presentation and interesting combination of flavours while feeling like comfort food. As I write these words, I realise it sounds odd to associate them in the context of a gastronomic restaurant, but this is clearly the feeling I got during the whole dinner.
A delightful sweet corn velouté opened the meal, served with a brie kataifi (being a supporter of Irish food doesn't mean you forget to take influence from foreign cuisine), quickly followed by a quail - leg and breast - with white asparagus. On the other side of the table, Damien enjoyed his rabbit served with black pudding and leg cannelloni.
The dish that stood out the most for me was the seared sea scallops, glazed pork cheek, caramelised apple and cider foam. Ordering it was a mistake from me - I usually don't eat pork but I got a bit excited and stopped reading the name of the dish at scallops. Well, that will teach me that sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone leads to the best surprises. This pork cheek was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. It melted in the mouth, combined sweetness and saltiness and the fibrous texture that I usually find quite revolting actually felt incredibly pleasant. The slice of (what I believe was) daikon gave the dish a slight punch, while the tartness of the apple and cider foam balanced it perfectly.
After a palate cleanser made of sorbet and frozen yoghurt bites - that I probably enjoyed much more than I was supposed to - the halibut with lobster, courgette flower and sundried tomato was a fine and fresh course. Damien's duck breast, beautifully pink, came alongside a confit pastilla and a tasty jus - a substantial dish that would prove wrong all those thinking that you leave high-end restaurants still hungry.
After a fruity pre-dessert, the other star of the night came as a peanut sensation, a classic from the house. The peanut parfait and chocolate mousse are hidden under a chocolate sphere which melts in front of you as the waiter pours a hot chocolate sauce over it; total mesmerizing food porn which I enjoyed until the very last bite.
While the food didn't cease to amaze us all along, it is hard not to mention how professional and committed the waiting staff are. Irish people are quite famous for their friendliness, but this experience brought it to a new level for me as they seem to have found the perfect balance between warmth, utter professionalism, and simplicity. This place isn't a Michelin-star restaurant, and I feel like it doesn't even want to be in order to maintain some propinquity with the guests.
After our last course, we were kindly invited to move toward the bar area as a second service was taking place. Coffee was served with some petits fours which we couldn't resist trying. As we were sipping on our cocktail/pint, the atmosphere got quite warm in the restaurant when a band started playing and the chef went around the table to greet the guests. Many can't resist taking a picture and everyone is delighted to get to spend a bit of time with the one they came to see. We stayed at the bar for a few hours and it was well after midnight when we finally got to bed.
The one regret I have from this trip is entirely up to me. When I have a rich dinner, I am never hungry in the morning. In this case, it was a real shame as the breakfast looked absolutely fantastic. According to Damien, who doesn't have the same problem, it was simply the best full Irish he had ever had. I guess we will all have to believe him on that one.