An ‘open secret’ destination that has attracted discerning visitors to the glorious north-west of Donegal for many years, the Alcorn family’s beautifully located restaurant with rooms is just outside Dunfanaghy on the shore of the New Lake, which is a special area of conservation.
It was the home of Susan Alcorn’s grandfather and, as they are a family of accomplished painters, the walls are hung with wonderful watercolours. Sitting comfortably against the backdrop of natural beauty they add an extra dimension for guests to enjoy and, with fresh flowers, soft lighting and some well-placed antiques, it is a place of character and atmosphere.
Susan and her husband Derek, who is the chef, have a dedicated following here and it is well earned. The location is superb, of course (and there are plenty of windows framing the views), but they also do pretty much everything just right themselves, extending warm hospitality and providing stylishly homely comforts, great food and drink - along with very good value.
There’s a real sense of place about everything at The Mill, and especially the food. Ever since they opened in 1999, Derek’s menus have been a seasonal expression of the surrounding sea and landscape. Most ingredients are sourced within a ten mile radius and dishes like Leitermacaward Oysters & Home cured Salmon and Horn Head Dexter Beef (supplied by his brother, Thomas, who also produces Hereford beef) jointly tell the stories of family and place.
Sometimes the ingredients may be unusual or under-used - Irish rabbit, for example, and Horn Head Kid Goat which is supplied by Derek’s nephew, Richard - but the originality in the cooking is as much in the way ingredients are combined, and in the detail, rather than simply in the choice of main ingredients. Fish and seafood is well represented of course, mainly sourced from the great Donegal sea ports of Killybegs and Greencastle, but also from Mulroy Bay Mussels, and Ivan McElhinney of Dunfanaghy, who supplies shellfish, pollock and mackerel.
There's always been a welcome emphasis on vegetables and salads too, much of which which come from the brilliant An LAN Teo organic horticultural project at Killult, Falcarragh - it includes a one-acre glasshouse, which greatly extends the range of produce that can be supplied locally, and is interestingly introduced in the Supplier List.
Gorgeous desserts will probably include some based on seasonal fruit such as rhubarb brulée with langue de chat biscuits or plum fritters with glazed lemon rice and toffee ice cream, and there's a good Irish cheese plate served with onion marmalade - and perhaps a glass of dessert wine or port.
But the overall experience here is much more than the sum of its parts and, under Susan’s direction, the hospitality and service is exemplary too.
Seats 30; children welcome (high chair, childrens menu); air conditioning. D high season,Tue-Sun 7-9pm, Set D about €41 (+side dishes); house wine about €18, craft beers also offered; sc discretionary. Closed Mon in Jul-Aug & extra nights other months; closed mid Dec-mid Mar.
The individually decorated rooms are simple but stylish, with good beds and some antique pieces.
A new room, The Studio, was added in 2016. A lovely big room, romantically set up with a king size four poster bed and in-room roll top bath in addition to an en-suite power shower, it is in the studio where Susan’s grandfather used to paint and has a sitting area overlooking the drive and garden.
The cosy sitting room off the dining room is available for resident guests to relax in, with an open fire, and comfy big chairs and sofas.
Overnight guests will also have a delicious breakfast to look forward to - a lovely buffet of fruits, juices, cereals etc, hot dishes starring breakfast meats from the famed butchers McGettigans of Donegal Town and cooked perfectly to order and all the little treats of home-baked breads and preserves. (Breakfast 8.30-9.30am)