Fermanagh is such a surprise to those of us who, like me, had spent years satisfied with the love of the west and the rest of Southern Ireland. Fermanagh is different to the windy wilds which I rated as the best of Ireland’s charms. There’s something more pastoral about it, what with the hundreds of islands and many lakes and rolling wooded hills between them.
It’s totally charming and well worth a trip over the border, should you be one of the many Southern Irish folk who rarely go north except to stock up on cheap booze or for a trip to Belfast city.
The Queen was in Enniskillen yesterday, doing her smiling, nodding thing as consummately as we have come to expect of her. She didn’t get to hang about for too long, which is a shame because there’s lots of great eating and drinking to be done in the area, not to mention sightseeing and outdoorsy activities.
This October there’s what sounds like a great cultural festival taking place. The Fermanagh Live (www.FLive.org.uk) programme includes comedy, children’s competitions and workshops, literature, music of all sorts including classical, brass and folk, theatre, film, visual art exhibitions and much more. Dónal Lunny, Andy Irvine & Ardal O’Hanlon are some of the names that caught my eye.
If any of this has piqued your interest and you’re thinking of taking a look for yourself, below is a flavour of what the Fermanagh Lakelands (www.fermanaghlakelands.com) have to offer foodwise, written for a recent supplement in The Irish Times.
I didn’t include Neven Maguire’s MacNean House & Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan, but it’s a short drive. Nor did I include the magical Belle Isle Castle which presides over it’s own private island and boasts an excellent cookery school offering residential courses as well as shorter affairs. Nor did I include the new Kitchen Academy cookery school located in Enniskillen town and run by Chef Joe Kelly. But I did include lots of suggestions for eating out, so you can rest assured you won’t go hungry.
1. Eating en masse
Whether you work up an appetite in the water or on the greenway, Fermanagh has plenty of fun choices for feasting with friends.
Franco’s Restaurant, Queen Elizabeth Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 4424, www.francosrestaurant.co.uk
This well-run operation delivers quality local food in an upbeat ambience, and its broad food offering makes it a good option for a crowd. Think contemporary pizza toppings, home-made marinades and locally sourced organic vegetables alongside Donegal seafood, Fermanagh lamb and 26-day dry-aged Kettyle beef.
Dollakis, Cross Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 66 342616, www.dollakis.co.uk
Locals head to this award-winning Greek bistro when they need a holiday fix – at any time of day. Authentic Greek treats like pikilia platters or cinnamon-scented stifado cooked with local venison sit side by side with crowd-pleasers like mixed grill with Greek salad.
Lusty Beg Island Restaurant, Boa Island, Kesh, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6863 3300, www.lustybegisland.com
Work up an appetite from any number of group activities offered on this private island including canoeing, archery and off-road driving, and then work it off with the likes of seafood chowder and smoked wild Irish salmon, beef and Guinness pie or ginger-spiced fishcakes. (Enquire about group bookings for everything from family holidays to hen / stag parties or weddings.)
The Bush Bar, Townhall Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 5210, www.thebushbar.com
Whether it’s burgers and beers with the match, wine and nibbles in the rooftop garden with views of the River Erne, or a three-course dinner followed by cocktails and a live band, there’s something for all the gang in this buzzed-up venue.
2. Table for two
Top off a special day exploring the hidden charms of these stunning lakelands with an intimate evening at one of the area’s excellent fine-dining options.
The Catalina Restaurant, Lough Erne Golf Resort, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 3230, www.lougherneresort.com
Talented chef Noel McMeel has long been a passionate champion of local artisan producers. He combines this rooted sense of place with skillful delivery of classic and contemporary dishes in the elegant setting of the Catalina dining room with its impressive lakeviews.
The Terrace Restaurant, Westville Hotel, Tempo Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 0333, www.westvillehotel.com
Two brothers have joined forces to put this new culinary destination on the map, with owner Nicky Cassidy leading the friendly front-of-house service while his brother and chef Gavin Cassidy heads up the kitchen. Expect flashes of fine dining inspired by Gavin’s time at MacNean House and l’Ecrivain.
Café Merlot / Restaurant No., Church Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 0918, www.russellanddonnelly.com
Two acclaimed food offerings now nestle under the roof of one of Ireland’s great pubs, Blakes of the Hollow. Begin your evening with a drink in the original Victorian front bar before ascending for fine-dining at Restaurant No. 6 – or settle in to the vaulted Café Merlot Wine Bar for classy contemporary cooking.
Watermill Restaurant, Kilmore Quay, Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6772 4369, www.kilmorequayclub.com
Perched on the shores of Lough Erne, boasting water gardens and a 50,000 litre aquarium, it’s no surprise that the likes of warm lobster salad should take pride of place on chef Pascal Brissaud’s menu. Home-grown garden produce also feature alongside extravagant Kettyle dry-aged beef served Rossini-style with truffles and foie gras.
3. Family-friendly feeds
Fermanagh’s lakelands are fertile grounds for family outings, and there are plenty of casual eateries with treats for all ages.
The Sheelin Tea Shop, Derrylin Road, Bellanaleck, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6634 8232, www.thesheelinteashop-bellanaleck.co.uk
It’s all about attention to detail in these beloved Tea Rooms adjacent to the impressive Sheelin Irish Lace Museum. Artisan baker Julie Snoddy crafts her baked delights from carefully-sourced local produce such as Fivemiletown Creamery butter, cream and cream cheese and local honey. The result is a sweet little piece of heaven.
The Horseshoe & Saddler, Belmore Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6632 6223, www.horseshoeandsaddlers.com
With activity menus and child-friendly cups for younger diners and signature Saddlers steaks for their chaperones, the recently renovated Saddlers bistro is well-tuned to the needs of all its punters. A keenly priced early bird offering runs from the early hour of 5pm.
FiddleSticks Restaurant, Customs House Inn, Main Street, Belcoo, Co Fermanagh, Tel. +44 (0) 28 6638 6285, www.customshouseinn.com
The pretty village of Belcoo lies at the foot of Cuilcagh Mountain overlooking Lough McNean and the Famous Hanging Rock. Here you’ll find the family-run Customs House Inn, an award-winning gastropub whose menu ranges from finger-lickin’ chicken wings to family favourites such as roast chicken with colcannon.
The Thatch Cottage, Main Street, Belleek, Co Fermanagh, Tel: +44 (0)28 6865 8181
Boasting the county’s only original thatched roof, the listed 18th-century building provides a picture-perfect setting for traditional treats such as homemade scones and cakes, hearty soups and freshly made sandwiches. You can even pick up some fishing tackle or hire bikes for the afternoon.
You can download a visitor guide here which includes lots of local restaurants, or visit www.fermanaghlakelands.com.
PANEL A unique flavour of Fermanagh
If you’re looking to sample truly local flavours, you need look no further than Pat O’Doherty’s Black Bacon. As with any true dry-cured bacon, the traditional and natural curing process ensures no shrinkage in the pan and none of the white residue that inferior bacon can leave behind. Pat uses rare-breed pigs such as the all-black Wessex pigs and black and white Saddlebacks alongside Gloucester Old Spots and Tamworths, and takes his time with a three-month curing process.
But it is the fact that these lucky pigs are reared on their very own private island on Upper Lough Erne where they are free to roam and feed on the wild herbs and grasses that gives Black Bacon its truly unique flavour. Visitors can arrange a trip out to see the pigs on their Inishcorkish home, or simply pick up The Fermanagh Black Bacon Cookbook with a packet of black bacon from O’Doherty’s Fine Meats in Enniskillen.
Where to stock up on local and artisan produce
O’Doherty’s Fine Meats, Belmore Street, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, www.blackbacon.com
Pat O’Doherty’s famous butcher shop selling award-winning burgers and bacon
Orchard Acre Farm, Lisnarick, Co Fermanagh, www.orchardacrefarm.com
An open organic farm offering everything from cookery classes and seasonal events to tipi holidays.
Russell & Donnelly Deli, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, www.russellanddonnelly.com
Just the spot to stock up on nibbles, wines and craft beers for an impromptu picnic
Ulster Farmers’ Mart, Tempo Road, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Farmers’ Market on the last Saturday of every month
Farmer’s Food Market, Tesco Carpark, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Farmers’ Market on the second Saturday of every month
**The gorgeous photos above are courtesy of www.fermanaghlakelands.com which is worth a browse for more ideas.**