Having been big fans of Sean and Ramune Farnan’s Benburb restaurant, Priory House, the Guide was delighted to catch up with them again at the picturesque Palace Stables Heritage Centre in Armagh city.
Once again they have applied their quirky charm to a traditional setting, introducing fun elements that give it an artistic vibe and provide the perfect background for Sean’s great cooking.
Overlooking the courtyard, the restaurant is an attractive and stylish space in muted greys with quirky pottery - made by Sean’s brother, the potter Stephen Farnan - on the tables, and for sale. Mismatched ‘upcycled’ furniture includes some pieces painted randomly in mainly primary colours 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.
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, smaller dishes, bruschetta & salads, larger dishes, sides/snacks, homemade desserts…) a little bewildering, friendly and attentive staff will guide you though and, in the Guide’s experience, all plates are likely to be cleared. Everything is made on the premises and that’s very obvious in the quality of the excellent breads, for example, and the parpadelle pasta served with a hearty beef ragu.
Creativity is everywhere, and very delicious is too; smaller dishes include an interesting beetroot cured salmon that, unusually, is served with hot creamed leeks, while rillettes of pork belly come with soured pineapple toast - and a sharp apple compote is a reminder that this is the Orchard County.
There’s quite an emphasis on meat, 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.
Desserts include homemade ice creams, a cheesecake of the week - an unusual fudge version, perhaps - and the gorgeous carrot cake that was so popular at Benburb. To accompany, the drinks list includes fresh fruit juices and a good coffee menu as well as wines and beers.
Original, unpretentious, tasty and fresh - and obviously cooked by 'one who loves food' - a meal here is also very good value, with daytime starters at £4 and main courses around £6-£10. Although the à la carte is more expensive in the evening, it is fairly priced - and both the ‘After Work Set Menu’ (Wed-Fri 5-6.30) and Sunday Lunch Menu offer outstanding value.
We couldn't recommend it more.