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 development is maturing and the quality of the materials used is now paying off as they begin to mellow and grow into the landscape.
There is much of interest outside, where visitors can stroll through the water gardens or admire Pascal’s vegetable garden, which provides most of the vegetables and herbs for the restaurant - 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’ there is a sumptuous choice, with local produce to the fore and lobster, scallops and Angus beef among the specialities.
Menus offered include a limited but very good value early dinner menu, a distinctly French à la carte, a more traditional 2/3 course Sunday menu and, perhaps, a special seasonal menu such as a festive menu for Christmas/New Year.
Examples from the à la carte include starters unlike anything else to be found in the area, such as cuisse de grenouille (frog legs – served, perhaps, with asparagus fricassée, tempura and basil butter) and a really good shellfish chowder, which comes with a bouillabaisse garnish.
Main courses are equally special: a perfectly slow-cooked melt in your mouth duck breast with wild mushroom and spinach lasagna, and “griotte” cherry reduction, for example, which not only tastes and looks great, but provides well judged variety of texture too. And beef lovers will be in heaven as one of Ireland's most highly-regarded meat suppliers, Kettyle Irish Foods, is based in Lisnaskea and proudly featured on the 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 – possibly in a delicious main course duo of local perch and salmon, with ratatouille tart and creamy pesto sauce: in this lovely flavoursome combination, a perfectly cooked salmon tower is set on a fine ratatouille tartlet with slivers of delicately pan fried perch on the side.
Desserts are also full of personality and first-time visitors should try Pascal’s favourite cocktail dessert, Orange panacotta with Southern Comfort, Red Bull sorbet and orange flower “Chouchou”, which is a lovely combination of subtle flavours.
Pascal is a genial host and often comes to chat to diners; his kitchen team is mainly French, including a dedicated pastry chef whom has a prep room all to himself, complete with sorbetière. Front of house, a nice friendly mixture of smartly-uniformed, well trained and knowledgeable staff, both local and French, provide very professional service to match the excellent food. While white gloves are not seen often in Ireland these days, they are put to practical use here.
France is naturally well represented on the extensive wine list, which covers a wide price range, from £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 promises to be memorable, 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!
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 from about £39.50pps