Sean & Ramune Farnan and the Priory House team have moved to Armagh
Set in a spectacular river valley, the Gorge, the historic village of Benburb has established a reputation for arts and crafts and is worth a journey for this - and also the good food offered at Sean and Ramune Farnan’s restaurant. Located at the entrance to Benburb Castle, it has craft studios at the back, including those of Sean’s brother, the potter Stephen Farnan (whose pieces you may eat off in the restaurant), and basket weaver Alison Fitzgerald, who was making beautiful menu covers for the restaurant at the time of the Guide’s visit.
The setting - in a 17th century cut stone building - may be traditional but the interior is far from it, which should perhaps come as no surprise given Stephen’s artistic input. He has introduced fun elements everywhere, including patchwork wallpaper (clever use of old sample books to create a stylish and unique effect for minimal cost), old comics papering the loo wall and an amazing ‘work in progress’ wall jigsaw in the main restaurant, which guests can add to – a section done by Gary Lineker and his wife has been framed and given pride of place on a separate wall.
But, quirky details aside, this is a place that is serious about its food and the two rooms that make up the bistro and the main restaurant are elegantly and comfortably set up to enjoy it. The more informal bistro area is fine for casual daytime drop-ins as well as proper meals, while the larger main room leans towards a fine dining ambience, with white-clothed tables. A courtyard can also be used for al fresco dining in fine weather.
As members of Taste of Ulster and Flavours of Tyrone, there’s a strong emphasis on fresh local ingredients (including their own home grown organic herbs) and, while some of the more special dishes (including lobster) are reserved for evening menus, there is considerable crossover. Even a light lunch here is an expression of dedication and skill in the kitchen - and ambitious one off events, such as an Italian night with a tasting menu and matching wines, are sometimes held too.
Dishes that bridge several menus might include an excellent, deeply flavoured soup of the day (served in one of the brother’s quirky bowls), which comes with lovely homemade bread and attractively served butter; a pretty starter of oven baked goats cheese is presented as crisp crumb-coated balls, with a delicious beetroot salad that pleases the eye as much as the palate.
A popular main course is thyme scented chicken supreme (perhaps on a casserole of leek, pearl onion and carrots in winter); from a number of vegetarian dishes highlighted on the menu, an speciality of ricotta gnocchi might come with Parmesan cheese, wild mushrooms, chestnuts & carrot dressing - it is a lovely dish, and an alternative version with prawns, tomato, parmesan & lemon dressing broads its appeal.
Delicious endings might include dressed up classics like a cinnamon, orange & apple crumble (served with a little jug of egg custard) and, in the evening, more sophisticated treats such as a trio of cheesecake (Baileys coffee, citrus & chocolate heaven).
It’s a delightful place and all round satisfaction is the story here: excellent cooking and service, together with a sense of fun, make this unusual restaurant a seriously worthwhile destination.