A handsome 19th century cut limestone courthouse faces down the main street of this busy town and, in a prime position alongside it, you’ll find Conor Mee and Charlotte Carr's atmospheric and friendly restaurant.
Originally a private house – previous owners of the restaurant once lived here and still return as customers – it has been imaginatively converted to create a cosy ground floor bar/reception area and, above it, quite a large restaurant of character, with exposed stone and brickwork, dark beams, interesting out of the way corners, and atmospheric lighting.
Conor will be known to many visitors from his time working with another well known chef, Raymond McArdle, at the nearby Nuremore Hotel, just outside Carrickmacross.
This alone may entice travelling foodies to make a detour off the nearby N2 Dublin-Derry road and call in for a bite – something encouraged by the lunchtime and early evening opening times – and what they will find is a very well thought out business, catering for the changing needs of the local clientèle through the day and throughout the week (offering takeaway meals too, which is a great service).
Darkwood tables are set up pleasingly with stylishly simple white plates and good modern glasses, and well-planned menus offer a carefully balanced choice including quite a few house specialities and dishes which are suitable for both lunch and dinner, or which lend themselves to variations and can be dressed up or down.
Basics like breads and soups are excellent – always the sign of a good kitchen - and classics such as fish and chips are sea-fresh and perfectly made.
It is always a real pleasure to find dishes that offer something different from the standard fare appearing on menus all over the country – Conor Mee’s seafood cocktail is a case in point, and appears on both lunch and dinner menus.
Served elegantly in a classic cocktail glass, the marie rose topping looks quite ordinary at first (although twists of smoked salmon and tiny brown shrimp garnish should give a hint of something unusual below), but eating it turns out to be a culinary exploration - first digging down through a seemingly endless layer of delicious fresh crab to another of mixed seafood and finally to a good base of potato salad; much more substantial than the usual shredded lettuce, and easier to eat too.
There are always daily specials and, if comfort food is the order of the day, there might be something like an old-fashioned lamb hotpot (served in an individual dish, with very finely sliced potato topping). Side vegetables are, like everything else, very generous – and also likely to be unusual and stylishly presented.
The dessert menu offers variations on old favourites that are hard to resist – crème brulée, for example, brownies and cream (pleasingly dark) or retro baked Alaska, and then good strong coffee to finish.
Friendly, helpful staff are a real asset and it’s a very pleasant place to be.