On the square, just up from the car ferry that goes over to Portaferry, Peter and Caroline McErlean’s inviting village inn is a welcoming place where visitors immediately sense the hands-on care and hospitality of the owners.
Over a century old, the inn is immaculately maintained and it has plenty of character with open fires, cosy lounges and a homely bar where food is served throughout the day.
The McErleans are committed Taste of Ulster members, and Peter’s menus in the restaurant reflect this. It’s not so much a matter of what dishes are offered (although the range is excellent) as how they showcase the fresh seasonal produce of the area, and the province. The cooking here lets the quality of the top-rate produce shine without doing too much to it: honest, simple and delicious.
Almost every dish includes information on provenance, whether it be the area – Ardglass rollmops, mackerel or breaded scampi, Ballyhornan crab claws or Rathlin Island king scallops – or, in most cases, the name of the producer (local farmers Joel Meeke and Noel Killen, for example, Paddy Morgan’s Armagh mushrooms and Fivemiletown cheeses) or the supplier (Crossgar Meats beef and poultry, Pinkerton’s pork and bacon). This adds depth and texture to the menu and gives a welcome sense of place that helps to make the dining experience more rewarding for visitors. It would be nice to have even more information, perhaps listed at the end in line with the Republic’s Just Ask programme.
Not surprisingly, given its harbourside location, seafood features strongly, though there are plenty of excellent beef, pork and chicken options too. Specialities include seafood chowder, which is their signature dish and is available as a starter or main, served with a basket of their homemade brown bread and made with Marty Johnston’s select fish. The Cuan’s Seafood Platter is the standout dish here: a seasonal selection of local fish, shellfish, smoked fish and ‘many more surprises’, which is designed to be a complete meal for two to share at £70.
Vegetarian and gluten-free choices are highlighted on the menu and dairy-free options are available on request.
As a father of four himself, Peter strives to create a balance between nutrition and treat with his children’s menu. Homemade Ardglass cod fish fingers, Pinkerton’s sausages, Crossgar chicken chunks or fresh pesto pasta are available and all come with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. At £6.50, it’s excellent value for the restaurant’s youngest customers.
The Cuan also hosts a variety of special events and meals throughout the year, such as a Father’s Day Catch and Cook, where you fish for your supper and then bring it back to the restaurant to be cooked, Burns night, a wild game night, a Victorian banquet or the popular Faulty Towers troupe who serves a classic 1970s meal while playing the parts of the characters from the famous TV show. Check The Cuan website for details and updates or pick up a programme in the restaurant.
The Cuan is an old, slightly cottagey building and the room sizes reflect this, but that adds to the charm and the standard is high following recent upgrades.
Bedrooms, including two family rooms, are comfortable and pleasingly furnished and most of the en-suite bathrooms have bath and shower. Some rooms overlook the square and all have digital television, free internet access, direct dial telephone and tea and coffee making facilities as standard. Conference facilities are also available.
A new accommodation option is the separate Bar View Cottage, just a short walk from The Cuan. It’s an 18th-century mid-terrace cottage with a double bedroom, twin room, solid fuel stove and magnificent views of Strangford Lough.
There is no shortage of attractions and activities in this unspoiled area, including several National Trust properties, walking, cycling and horse trails, fishing, canoeing, sailing, bird watching, golf and the St Patrick’s Trail. The Cuan would make an ideal base and short breaks are offered.