At the heart of this beautifully located property on the eastern shore of Lough Swilly is a country house dating back to 1789. Athough considerably extended in recent times, it remains an attractive building and was formerly the celebrated Restaurant St John’s.
Under new management since 2009, the building and setting will be familiar to returning diners – who will be glad to find that the little old-fashioned bar at the side, and its open fire, are still there – but the current owners have done quite a major interior revamp and landscaped the gardens. And, of course, there is now a welcoming red door.
With bay windows everywhere and bevelled glass doors, the building is bright and the rooms have interesting shapes (also open fires, although all are gas except for the bar); each room is named according to the décor or character – The Willow Room, The Violet Room, The View, The Red Room - and there’s a covered refuge for smokers.
A few well chosen pieces of antique furniture, shutters and thick walls, plus many old photos with local relevance add to an old world feel, while the skilful use of lighting, especially candles, and lots of glass add glamour.
While now styled ‘country house’ and offering accommodation, the main emphasis remains on food, with a range of menus available throughout the day. Daytime food is served in the bar or, in fine weather, at tables set up in the paved courtyard.
At night, The Violet Room is the main dining area, with doors opening into The Willow Room to make one large, atmospheric dining space, where tables are set formally with quality cutlery and glasses, linen napkins and decorative tealight holders. Welcoming, smartly black-uniformed staff are quick to offer menus to dinner guests – and everything combines to make diners feel confident of an enjoyable meal ahead.
This is a restaurant for everyone, with popular dishes featuring; there may be some surprises among the fish dishes and imaginative vegetarian options, but main courses feature ever-popular steaks (28 day dry-aged sirloin and fillet), and also list homemade burger and a couple of chicken dishes, perhaps including chicken tagliatelle.
The cooking is quite hearty and the pricing seems fair, with one side order included in the price and any other extras charged separately. But, even though portions are generous, do save some room for dessert - it could well be the highlight of your meal; it is good to see desserts with a local relevance on offer, such as Carrageen Moss with Rhubarb & Irish Whiskey Purée.
The wine list is arranged by style, and there’s also a cocktail menu and a Wine of the Week.
All round, a meal here should be a very enjoyable outing - it’s a beautiful place, the food is pleasing and, the lovely staff are efficient, and very attentive.
Seats 80 (Private room 20, outdoor dining 25.) Open daily in Summer from noon for Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Bar Bites and Dinner. [Winter hours are shorter D Wed-Sun 6-9.30 (Sun from 5) L Sun only 12.30-4]. A La carte. House wine €19.50. Set D €28 including a glass of house wine; also A la carte. House wine from €17.
Upstairs, the four guestrooms have been completely refurbished; individually designed and decorated to a high standard, with flat screen TVs, each en-suite double bedroom is named - Le Boudoir, Le Salon, Le Damask and Le Noir.
While the names may seem a bit pretentious, they do offer a clue to the character of each room: Le Boudoir is the big front bedroom, a romantic junior suite with especially lovely lough views; Le Salon and Le Damask are quite classic, and designed to be equally suitable for leisure or business guests; and Le Noir is the funky one, decorated in black/purple tones...