Cavan: Destination dining

The Olde Post Inn, Cloverhill, Co Cavan; tel: 047-55555; theoldepostinn.com

TELL foodies you’re off to try a restaurant with rooms in Cavan, and you could stake your house on the reply: “Neven’s, is it?”

Neven’s is MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion — where Neven Maguire’s €72 dinner menu and luxury guest rooms were enticing folk to the back of the beyonds long before “destination dining” was a thing. Or even a term.

But there are other kitchens in Cavan. One in particular that’s been gaining steam (and a toque-full of awards) is The Olde Post Inn, a restaurant with rooms run by Gearóid and Tara Lynch in Cloverhill. It’s a good 30 minutes closer to Dublin, too.

First impressions are bang on. The Olde Post began life as a post office in 1884, and its gardens and stonework are lit beautifully after dark. After a slow crawl along country roads, the sight of chatty diners through cosy windows is seriously inviting.

Inside, we grab aperitifs in a conservatory where exposed brick, studded velvet armchairs and sparkly chandeliers strike lovely notes of comfort and luxury. Tara and her colleague here know the menus inside out, describing the dishes and fielding our questions — about the Corleggy cheese, the coral cream, the Tamworth bacon — with aplomb.

From there, we’re led through a bar blooming with a turf fire, to our table. The Olde Post contains several spaces spread around this hearth — some more atmospheric than others, it has to be said — and ours is at the end of the vaulted main dining room. The lighting is slightly flatter here, and the temperature slightly lower, but the pared-back brickwork, crisp straw blinds and characterful old rafters still make for a charming setting.

While Tara hosts, Gearóid heads up the kitchen. He’s the current Commissioner General of Euro Toques in Ireland, and a former Euro Toques Young Chef of the Year, so we’re not surprised to see local suppliers listed on the menu. Nor creative twists on classic Irish fare: a chicken breast stuffed with potato, apple and bacon for example, served with Irish whiskey sauce. Or Dublin Bay Prawns in kataffi pastry.

A five-course dinner costs €55pp, and I kick off with the scallops. They’re expertly cooked, seared on the surface whilst maintaining a soft sweetness within, and there’s a smoky coral cream whipped up from the orange roe (or coral). The accompanying cauliflower purée is a bit bland, however — I think a better taste and texture could be found here.

L’s terrine of Tamworth bacon (named for the breed), meanwhile, comes with sharp, vividly green cabbage — a modern take on classic Irish comfort food.

For a middle course, I ask for the Corleggy goat’s cheese from the starter menu. It arrives in a nest of kataffi pastry with beetroot and snap-fresh leaves. The textures (crunchy leaves, slippery beetroot, gooey cheese, wiry pastry) combine brilliantly. L opts for the mango and passion fruit sorbet, a cold, creamy palate cleanser.

Mains include monkfish with bacon and cabbage cream, baked salmon with a white asparagus risotto, and wild venison with herb gnocchi and Valrhona sauce. L goes for a medium-rare sirloin steak, an enormous lump of beef served with skillets of crispy onions and béarnaise on the side. She enjoys it, but it’s too big and chewy for me.

My own choice is a special — John Dory (originally to have been turbot, but that ran out), with an oyster and shitake mushroom risotto. The risotto is deftly balanced — creamy, punchy, rich and comforting, but the fish is overcooked. I’d expect John Dory to be firm, but this is rubbery, with the delicacy and subtleness blasted out of it. It’s disappointing.

A cheery and industrious team has been polite and friendly all evening, and when I skip their offer of a replacement main course, the John Dory is deducted from our bill. No quibbles, no excuses, just a professional gesture and a happy ending.

Neven isn’t the only chef in Cavan worth travelling for.

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