The prospect of a meal at Neven and Amelda Maguire's renowned County Cavan establishment has long attracted devotees from all over Ireland, and beyond - and its development, from a modest restaurant with rooms to a spacious place of sumptuous comfort, has brought the setting up to the international standards that Neven's exceptional cooking deserves.
Despite the demands outside his kitchen (and there are many, as he is invariably generous with his time when the cause is deserving), Neven shows no sign of being distracted and his cooking continues to astonish and delight: perfectly judged food, that makes the most of meticulously locally sourced ingredients (proudly credited on the menu), is invariably an experience to treasure – and patience is required by those who wish to enjoy it, especially at weekends, as the restaurant is always heavily booked long in advance.
Menus include a 9-course Prestige Menu which is for entire tables (with vegetarian variations available), a competitively priced Dinner Menu, and a famously keenly priced Sunday lunch menu, which makes MacNean House unusually accessible for a fine dining restaurant.
Recent developments have increased the bar and seating areas, which makes for a much more relaxing visit to this busy establishment. The restaurant itself is simple and elegant, with décor in warm tones of cream and plum and the comfortable upholstered chairs, immaculate linen and restrained creamy white tableware, all creating the right ambience for full enjoyment of Neven's exquisite food.
Main dishes are interspersed with all the treats that are part of the dining experience in the grandest restaurants - meals begin with a gorgeous assortment of yeast breads and dipping oil, and there will also be pre-starters, pre-desserts and superb petits fours. The Prestige Menu - Neven's 9 course signature tasting menu - is a special treat and, to enjoy it fully, you need to bring a hearty appetite and try to eat fairly early in the evening.
Of the growing number of specialities, Seared scallop with pork cheek, artichoke risotto & apple vinegar caramel, and a Thornhill duck plate (sautéed breast, confit spring roll, smoked duck & crispy foie gras) are outstanding examples - and desserts have always been a particular passion for Neven, so it's a must to leave room for one of his skilfully crafted confections.
This is outstanding cooking, served with charm, and it offers exceptionally good value.
A lot of work has gone into the wine list in recent years and, unusually, it begins with a list of highly regarded suppliers and a credit to wine expert Peter Cumisky, who assisted with compiling the list – a great introduction to a wide ranging and informative list that offers many treats, including a good choice of half bottles, an unusually extensive range of champagne and sparkling wines (including four sparkling rosés) and a great selection of dessert wines, plus ports and other fortified wines to go with those magnificent desserts.
Impressive and well-matched to the menus, this is not a show-off list and, although those very special occasions are provided for, there are many interesting bottles in the €30-45 racket and not many above €60.
As we have said many times before, genuine enthusiasm for good food and wine, combined with exceptional creativity, skill and hospitality make this restaurant something of a national treasure.
Seats 50. D Thu-Sun (Wed-Sun in high season) 6-9.30pm (7-8pm Sun); L Sun only, two sittings, 12.30 & 3.30; set 4 course Sun L €37.50; set D €67 (5 course & tea/coffee); Menu Prestige €82 (€122 per person including wine selection); vegetarian menu €48. Wine from about €30. SC discretionary.
The standard of accommodation offered matches that of the restaurant, and there are various options available, including suites, junior suites, standard or deluxe rooms, and courtyard houses.
All are thoughtfully furnished and very comfortable, making this the short break destination par excellence - the only problem here is getting a booking, especially at weekends. So take a midweek break if you can, or remember to plan well ahead.
An especially thoughtful touch in the rooms is a letter from Neven, Amelda and their staff, together with a signed copy of Neven's Country Living Cookery Book - a typically generous gesture, it is much appreciated by guests.