This famous old 19th century coaching inn fell into great hands when Ronan and Jennie Sweeney took it over in 2004.
With extensive experience in the hospitality industry behind them, they were determined to restore Balloo’s reputation as one of the finest country dining pubs in Northern Ireland - and this they have achieved very successfully.
Downstairs operates as a full licensed bar daily and it is extremely busy all week; the place has oodles of genuine character and the old kitchen bar, with its flagstones and traditional range, makes a great setting for excellent bistro fare.
Many dishes are available in two sizes and menus are sprinkled with local, seasonal and free range foods like Strangford mussels (with bouillabaisse sauce and saffron rouille croute), 21-day dry-aged locally reared steaks, home-made Dexter beef burgers and Lissara free range chicken and ham hock pie (with creamed leeks, parsley sauce and local vegetables).
A separate entrance from the bar leads up to the first floor, which resembles a quaint and cosy converted loft, and has a snug reception area with open fire and comfy seats, beside a well stocked bar with many liqueurs on display.
The décor is quite traditional in style, with beautiful exposed stone walls the main feature; the restaurant is beautifully laid out with tall backed chairs around white linen clad tables with sparkling crystal wine glasses - and despite the cosy appearance, there's plenty of space between tables.
Head chef Danny Millar is a well known advocate of local seasonal produce and this is reflected in his menus, typically in upbeat traditional dishes from an early summer menu such as Glenarm organic salmon with Strangford crab & potato salad, pickled vegetables and salad cream; Lissara farm duck (confit leg with potato boxty, creamed savoy cabbage and roasted beetroot); and warm Armagh rhubarb and custard tart with rhubarb sorbet.
The cooking is accomplished, as would be expected of this highly regarded chef, and he is producing stunning food. Every dish has a wow factor, but the real skill is in allowing the quality of ingredients to shine through, and this beautifully presented food has real flavour.
An impressive wine list includes a good choice of wines by glass and service, under the supervision of Restaurant Manager Brian Corey, is excellent, although the popularity of this restaurant can sometimes bring the kitchen under pressure, especially at weekends.
Midweek menus – both the Bistro Supper Menu and the 3-course set dinner in the restaurant – are keenly priced without compromising on quality and offer especially good value.
The lovely relaxed ambience and outstanding food at very reasonable prices are a credit to all involved, and Balloo’s growing reputation is well earned.
Booking in advance is essential for the restaurant.
*See sister establishment, The Parsons Nose in Hillsborough