Since purchasing the run down pub in 2012 they have invested over £1 million in the property, which was relaunched in spring 2014 with a great new name and all the Sweeneys’ hallmarks of stylish deliciousness.
Wisely, the nice old fashioned front bar has been changed very little, and it remains the centre of local activities with a regular pub quiz (9pm on Tuesdays, fortnightly) and music sessions (Thursdays and Fridays from 9pm, Traditional and Blue Grass respectively).
But behind the bar, opening onto the car park and an attractive outside seating area, it’s a whole different story, with the Sweeneys’ special kind of casual country chic making a dining area that has a sense of occasion while also being very comfortable and relaxing. It’s a lovely tactile look, with open brickwork, stone-flagged floors, sturdy wooden tables and rurally inspired art creating an atmospheric setting for terrific food.
You can watch Chef Kelan McMichael (formerly of Rathmullan House Hotel, Co Donegal) at work in an open kitchen, which always makes for a good buzz, and (although no supplier list is given) mouthwatering menus offering the best of modern bistro fare drip with local produce including Portavogie prawns, Strangford mussels and crab, Leggyowan goats cheese, Rockvale chicken Mourne lamb and beef that’s ‘sourced locally and dry-aged to perfection in a Himalyan salt chamber’ and, of course, Comber potatoes.
Anyone who knows Balloo House or The Parson’s Nose - or has enjoyed Kelin McMichael’s cooking in Donegal - will have high expectations here and they won’t be disappointed, but first time visitors are in for a delightful surprise.
The staff are lovely too, making this a very welcoming place to drop into - and there’s even a ‘farm shop, The Poacher’s Pantry, where you can buy a whole range of local foods (including meats for the barbecue), wines and craft beers.
The Poacher’s Pocket is a must-visit when in this lovely area - which, with the Post Office Tea Room, Will Brown’s Old Schoolhouse and Balloo House all nearby has become a culinary hotspot, attracting growing numbers of food tourists.
To meet demand the Sweeneys have teamed up with local B&Bs including Anna’s House, The Mill at Balloo, and Hunter's Lodge, mainly to promote midweek dine and stay offers.