Tucked away in the heart of County Fermanagh and spectacularly situated on the shores of Lough Erne, visitors will be surprised to find this impressive fine dining restaurant, which enjoys stunning views over both the lough itself and the lovely rolling countryside beyond.
French chef and fishing enthusiast Pascal Brissaud came to the county a number of years ago to fish, and the charm of rural life enticed him to stay.
This venture - a striking thatched building, completed to an exceptionally high standard - took four years for Pascal and his partner Valerie Smith to complete. Although initially somewhat Disney-esque in this low-key Fermanagh setting, the thatch is mellowing nicely now and the quality of the materials used is paying off as the development matures and begins to grow into the landscape.
There is much of interest outside, where visitors can stroll through the water gardens or admire Pascal’s vegetable garden - and, of course, enjoy the wonderful setting.
Inside, it is full of French character, cosily decorated and furnished, with open fires and three old giant bellows brought from France adding to the atmosphere. And the food is equally unusual: described as ‘Irish with a French twist’, accessibly priced set menus have local produce to the fore - notably vegetables and herbs from Pascal's own garden - and premium ingredients including lobster, scallops, local steaks and frogs legs (of course) feature on the specials menu.
Reflecting Pascal’s special interest there is a leaning towards fish and shellfish, with freshwater as well as sea fish offered, sometimes in combination. Ballotine of Donegal smoked salmon and smoked mackerel makes a punchy starter served with horseradish cream, while classic gratinated Donegal mussels are given a twist with hazelnut in the garlic butter.
Main courses may include a perfectly slow-cooked melt in your mouth duck breast with mulled wine sauce, which not only tastes and looks great but adds seasonal interest to an autumn menu too. And beef lovers will be well pleased by a comforting casserole of beef and pork belly in red wine sauce, or slow cooked roast ribeye of beef with shallot gravy sauce - both of which also feature on the all day Sunday menu.
Desserts are also full of French personality, with crepes, classic French apple tart and chocolate fondant among the treats - first-time visitors should try Pascal’s Assiette Gourmande.
Pascal is a genial host and often comes to chat to diners; his kitchen team is mainly French, including a dedicated pastry chef who has a prep room all to himself, complete with sorbetière. Front of house, a nice friendly mixture of well trained and knowledgeable staff, both local and French, provide relaxed yet very professional service to match the excellent cooking.
France is naturally well represented on the extensive wine list, which covers a wide price range, from about £12.50 (house carafe) upwards, with a good choice of half bottles and wines by the glass; full bar also available.
All round, a visit to the Watermill should be memorable. The style is less formal than in the earlier days but the cooking is better than ever and it is a great addition to the hospitality offered in this beautiful area - especially for visitors arriving by boat, who may have meals delivered to their cruiser while moored at the private jetty!
Very pleasing, comfortable accommodation is offered in seven spacious en-suite rooms (two family rooms), and self catering cottages are also available. Angling holidays are a speciality. B&B £38pps, ss£21; family room £95.