Tucked away in Aghalee, a short drive from the Moira roundabout, Clenaghans has found a new lease of life in the hands of Michelin Starred chef Danni Barry. A hefty claim to fame for a restaurant that is one of the newest additions to the growing foodie destination that the greater Moira area is becoming. The excellent Wine & Brine, McCartney's Butcher & Deli, Hannan Meats (The Meat Merchant), The Still House (formerly The Four Trees) and now Clenaghans are giving folk plenty of reasons to get out of the City for a short trip 20 minutes down the motorway.
Clenaghans reopened its doors at the end of last year with the aforementioned Barry teaming up with Steven and Christina Higginson from The Square Bistro in Lisburn. Admittedly I have never eaten in The Square duly because of its location and the complete lack of options pre and post meal. The reviews are always complimentary with Charles Campion and the critique elite having previously waxed lyrical about the venue. Add to the fact that The Square has been operating for 10 years in one of the most unsought locations means they must be doing a lot of things right.
So, dream team, dream location and a building that has as much charm as David Beckham at a Royal Wedding, what is there not to love? Having been a fairly regular customer of the old Clenaghans pre-2015 when Ivan and his wife Claire were proprietors I have fond memories of delicious food, impeccable service and hospitality that couldn't be matched. I recall Ivan even asking us into his living room during the 2008 Euro's to watch England getting put out of the competition on penalties. Fast forward 10 years and it is to no surprise that inside of the restaurant is more or less the same as the previous carnation. Perhaps a few more tables squeezed in due to the venues increased popularity but the ambience was fairly similar with a candle-lit country Inn feel. The restaurant has various sections and enclaves which given the level of patrons imbibement can often cause confusion during restroom visits.
Apon arrival we were informed that our table wasn't quite ready which was no biggie. We were asked to stand at the bar area which proved quite difficult given the confines of the dining area with servers constantly ushering us out of their way. After 30 minutes of being shifted around the bar area, we got seated and went started deliberating our order. The menu was fairly succinct which I was, and always am, fond of. Consisting of 3 snacks, 5 starters and 5 mains.
After prior advice to order the Scotch Eggs I didn't hesitate but the crab and scallop dishes also appealed. A crispy breadcrumb coating and a flavourful meaty pork stuffing acted not only as an excellent flavour vehicle but also as a perfect barrier to ensure the egg was at it's oozy best. The mustard dip could have been given further punch.
For mains, I opted for the Braised Short rib with roasted onions, lovage and mashed potato. The short rib was cooked as expected being perfectly tender and it was apparent that a lot of care was taken in the cooking. The roasted and deep fried onions added a much-needed sweetness that complemented the fatty, gelatinous beef. To be honest I wouldn't have noticed the lovage if it wasn't for the colour as it didn't really add anything to the overall flavour being somewhat lost alongside with the gamey short-rib. The mash potato was welcome and the dish was finished with a light gravy jus. A nice little dish that paired well with a ballsy Malbec that would be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone who is fond of strong meaty flavours.
It's apparent that the team at Clenaghans are on to a good thing. Talk of 2/3 weeks wait to get a table certainly has the well-heeled patrons of Moira clamouring to get their names down. Whether the new venue can establish itself as a destination to attract those further afield on a consistent basis remains to be seen. I for one am looking forward to returning.