Eating Out: It's easy to rave about Lough Erne Resort's Catalina Restaurant
The Catalina Restaurant,
Lough Erne Resort,
NOBODY wants to go out for something to eat and end up disappointed. Even that weird stratum of the population who seem to exist only to complain about things – they live on Twitter – would need to be in a particularly perverse mood to sit down for dinner hoping it's not going to be any good.
I'm no different, especially if that dinner is going to end up rambled about for 700-odd words in the paper at the weekend. It's much easier to say nice things. It's nicer too. But there was a little devil whispering in my ear about the Catalina Restaurant at the Lough Erne Resort just outside Enniskillen. The devil was the invitation to come on down to Fermanagh and try out the menu.
That bill you see at the end of this was already taken care of, but could my integrity stand it? Perhaps the best way to show it could was to be forced to write nasty things having been served up nasty things. Yeah, if it's all rotten, if the service is a mess, if the whole night would prompt a Twitter row with some poor soul who handles the social media then that would prove my probity beyond reproach.
But it didn't work out like that. Instead, everything was just about faultless. There weren't any 50/50 calls that made me wonder what I would have thought had I invited myself. However you get there, whoever is paying, the Catalina will not disappoint.
The room is bright and friendly, with the gleaming white linen that screams fine dining, but exuding a warmth that reassures you however fancy this stuff is going to be, you won't be in for a stuffy experience.
A little disc of goat's cheese from down the road in Fivemiletown with a sliver of pickled carrot and a dot of fermented cream was a pinprick of flavour that set up much more to come.
A trail of delicately picked crab sat between translucent slices of blush pink pickled fennel and bursts of sweet-sharp orange gel and a perfect, plump scallop.
The Cary Grant-smooth chicken liver parfait that basically melted in the mouth was so meatily earthy it almost forced you to try to chew it. Pistachio sponge and nut crumb, both brought sweetness, while cherry gel (they like their gel) was the required acidic counterpoint.
All the while we graze on superb soda, treacle and curry bread, far more than we maybe should so early in proceedings, but it's difficult to turn down, not just because it's so good but because it would seem rude to say no to the staff – friendly, efficient, unobtrusive, funny, knowledgeable.
A meaty fillet of halibut was perfectly cooked, along with a crispy croquet of fish, earthy butternut squash and shimeji mushroom, and fronds of samphire.
“Chef Noel McMeel's Signature dish”, as the menu proclaims it, was asking to be ordered. The title and the fact it commands a £6.50 supplement to the £45 two-course menu or the £52 three-course is quite the build-up, but it's quite the delivery too as noted producer Pat O'Doherty's pork gets the star treatment.
A cube of crispy-topped belly, a palmier of puff pastry laced with black pudding, a round of fillet wrapped in bacon, a sticky piece of cheek and a crunchy ball of ham hock were lined up in a firing squad with bursts of intense apple puree.
It's all fantastic but it packs a surprise: That fillet. It's wrapped in bacon – which never hurts anything – but, still, to make a piece of pork fillet stand out among all those always gorgeous wobbly bits is some sort of feat to pull off.
Desserts stand out too, a chocolate delice like a cocoa version of that liver parfait, with some gel of its own, this time salted caramel, and glazed pecans in place of the pistachio. And caramel ice cream for luck. It's very rich, very sweet and makes you feel a bit naughty to be eating it.
The rice pudding felt virtuous by comparison. The warm rice was comfortingly bland, with bursts of sharpness from poached plums, a little crunch from almonds and the barest hint of sugar from some yellowman ice cream. It was just about the least sweet sweet you could imagine, but was all the better for it.
Of course it's easy to rave about a dinner for two that tops £100 for food alone when you're not paying for it, but it's easier still when it's this good. Outstanding ingredients treated with respect and immense skill served in an atmosphere you'll have to drag yourself away from is a rare combination, and a priceless experience.
Three-course menu £52
Three course menu with pork main course £58.50