The picturesque Palace Stables Heritage Centre in Armagh city is a terrific location for Sean and Ramune Farnan’s atmospheric restaurant and wine bar - and, just as they did in their first restaurant Priory House, in Benburb, they have applied quirky charm to a traditional setting by introducing fun elements that give it an artistic vibe and provide the perfect background for Sean’s great cooking.
Overlooking a handsome courtyard with a smart outside seating area, the restaurant is an attractive and stylish space in muted greys with much of interest in the detail. Mismatched ‘upcycled’ furniture includes some pieces painted randomly in mainly primary colours and there is unusual pottery - made by Sean’s brother, the potter Stephen Farnan - on the tables, and for sale. But, quirky details aside, this is a place that is serious about its food and comfortably set up to enjoy it.
Sean and Ramune have an original outlook, and one or two aces up their sleeves when it comes to producing great food. For a start there is their holistic philosophy for ‘sustainability, value, local produce and, most of all, flavour’, which sees them taking inspiration from the surrounding parkland, where they forage for wild food, in addition to growing their own produce - look out for the kitchen garden just before the arch into the courtyard as you arrive, and (depending in the time of year) you should see a surprising amount of herbs, vegetables and some fruit growing there, in what would effectively be a wasted space.
And then there is Sean’s respect for traditional cooking techniques, which - along with a ‘nose to tail’ approach that sees him using a wider range of ingredients than many other chefs - brings great depth of flavour to his food.
The daytime menu is quite extensive and, although first time visitors may find its range (brunch, soups, small plates, bruschetta & salads, big plates, sides/snacks, homemade burgers) a little bewildering, friendly and attentive staff will guide you though - and whatever you choose is sure to be delicious. Everything is made on the premises and that’s very obvious in the quality of every dish.
Excellent breads are an important component of many of the daytime dishes and, while simple, this is not food that you will see on every other menu; quality ingredients, interesting flavour combinations and attention to detail are the hallmarks of this kitchen. There’s quite an emphasis on meat, including their own black pudding which appears in a variety of guises, but vegetarian dishes (or dishes which can be adapted for vegetarians) and gluten free dishes are highlighted and the seasonal side vegetables are lovely - and fresh (not supermarket) salad leaves are much in evidence.
There is some overlap from lunch into the evening menu, but dinner allows Sean to spread his culinary wings and you may expect some delicious creativity and less usual ingredients, such as Lough Neagh eel and game in season.
This being the Orchard County, apples feature in many dishes, including an irresistible Bramley and frangipane creation; other desserts include Glastry Farm ice-cream, from County Down.
To accompany, the drinks list includes fresh fruit juices and a good coffee menu as well as wines and beers.There is also an atmospheric bar alongside the restaurant that opens in the evenings and is available to private parties at other times - and, as the Palace Stables is a popular wedding venue, The Moody Boar is the ideal place for the reception, seating 64 in the restaurant (or 80 for canapés) and up to 80 for dinner in the Hayloft Gallery room.
Original, unpretentious, tasty and fresh - and obviously cooked by 'one who loves food' - a meal here is also very good value for the quality, with daytime small dishes at around £4.50-£7 (for a charcuterie plate, for example) and main courses about £9.50-£12. Although the à la carte is more expensive in the evening, it is fairly priced - and there is an outstanding children's menu that offers education and fun as well as some very good food.
Local suppliers, including Keenan Seafood, Conway Farms, Rockvale Poultry and Farmlay Eggs are proudly named, and Armagh ciders and Hilden Brewery craft beers are also stocked.
We couldn't recommend it more highly.