In the Mathers family for six generations, John and Louise Mathers’s lovely Georgian country house is only a short drive from Belfast, and handy to both Belfast International and City airports and Ferry Terminal - yet, set in mature trees, gardens and green fields on the edge of the quiet village of Magheralin, it feels like worlds away.
Following major renovations, John’s former family home opened as a guesthouse in 2005, and it now offers luxurious accommodation in stylish, individually decorated and thoughtfully appointed rooms (all with beautiful bathrooms, five of which have separate bath and shower), a period drawing room with an open log fire, and a fine dining room where John takes pride in presenting meals based mostly on local and organic produce - which can be taken at separate tables or as a group.
John is an excellent chef, who has a real feeling for the seasons and cooks with finesse in a pleasingly direct style, so you get the true character of his carefully sourced ingredients. Baked fig stuffed with Cashel Blue cheese and wrapped in pancetta is a typically upbeat starter, and deeply-flavoured soups are inspired by garden produce in season - roast tomato with basil and marjoram, perhaps. Main courses may well include a special local treat of the renowned Himalayan salt chamber 45 day dry-aged beef from Hannan's in nearby Moira, where their retail outlet The Meat Merchant has become a national destination for meat lovers, then there are excellent Irish cheeses with homemade biscuits and chutney as well as gorgeous desserts such as Lou's bruléed lemon tart with strawberries - and Upperlands coffee or Suki leaf tea to finish.
Everything is presented with stylish simplicity and with friendly, professional service to match - and this applies to breakfast too.
You'll waken to the aroma of baking breads and pastries, and a tempting array of juices (including local apple, as well as freshly squeezed orange), fresh fruit salad, organic yoghurt and other goodies greets you just inside the dining room door. The rare breed chickens pecking around the orchard provide fresh eggs for a range of hot dishes including as good an Ulster Fry as you will find anywhere including Moyallon dry cured back bacon (another great from Hannan's), outstanding sausages - Maddens' perhaps - black and white puddings, ripe tomato and a selection of John's terrific baked goods including, of course, that Ulster classic - potato bread. A vegetarian option is also offered, and other choices include Walter Ewing's smoked salmon with scrambled egg, omelettes, or pancakes. And lovely homemade preserves with your toasted breads of course - all round delicious.
With beautiful surroundings, genuine hospitality and terrific food, Newforge is a lovely spot for a short break (various special offers are available) and makes a perfect setting for special occasions, including weddings (which can be in a marquee in the garden for larger numbers), smaller celebrations, or corporate events. It's a real gem.