Eating Out: The Stillhouse in Moira is more than just a pub
61 Main Street,
Moira, Co Down,
THE Stillhouse in Moira is very much a pub. Its handsome bar and panelled snugs make it look and feel like a pub. In the adjoining Hughes Craft Distillery they make their own RubyBlue branded gin, vodka and liqueurs. You can go on a tour to see them being made and they have a gin school, where you can make your own to bring home.
The whole concern means it seems perfectly fair to begin by talking about the drinks which, as it happens, don’t feature ample range of in-house spirits. Instead, the Stillhouse Shrub combines a rhubarb and ginger gin, blackberries and lemon into a bag of sweets in a glass you could sink in frighteningly short order.
On the driver’s side of the table non-alcoholic Seedlip Spice – a clove-heavy spicy hot whiskey without the whiskey (or heat) – makes for a beautifully aromatic sip with juniper, star anise and tonic.
Both have been expertly mixed by the staff, all of whom look younger than some of the bottles of whiskey behind the bar, and are friendly, knowledgeable and unobtrusive.
The Stillhouse is very much a pub, but it’s not just a pub. If it was, a review under the banner Eating Out would need some serious filler. People will flock to gin, that much seems obvious. But, while the allure of botanicals may be enough for some, The Stillhouse calls itself a gastropub – so the food has to do some of the heavy lifting. It manages, mostly.
A very gastropub menu ticks every disparate box from fish and chips to Thai curry, pasta and a Caesar salad. Mains run from £11.95 to £15.95, with a sirloin steak outlier at £22.95.
Panko crumbed chicken with garlic potatoes was perfectly fine. Everything was well cooked, the chicken still moist if a pinch underseasoned under the crunchy coating you’d expect, with the spuds and mayonnaise both suitably garlicky.
But the generous portion was nothing more inspiring than that.
The hake was a beautiful piece of fish, cooked on point and sitting on top of a risotto that, while again well executed, just lacked something. The prawns and chorizo didn’t add much, though the sausage did give a nice blush pink to the rice, which carried a pleasant heat thanks to flecks of chilli. But, again, pleasant was as far as it got.
Thankfully, the mains were propped up on either side by seriously good starters and desserts.
Two golf ball-sized Scotch eggs, quail’s eggs perfectly soft-boiled inside a mix of black pudding, firmed up with a little pork and a shattering crumb. All flawless, and made better when dragged through a smoky, mustard-heavy aioli.
The chicken liver parfait was silky but carried big flavour, and came bordered by a lemon thyme butter. The whole lot, smeared over excellent brioche toast with a bit of quince and onion, was outstanding.
Afters were just as good: simple, defined flavours carried off precisely.
A sticky toffee pudding sat like a proud, completed Rubik’s cube, with the added tang of Guinness in the sponge, a bang-on butterscotch sauce and a yellow man ice cream that was only bettered by the rum and raisin across the table.
That came with what was claimed to be a treacle tart but wasn’t really.
The dominant flavour by a long way was lemon, but it was another clinker. A crisp base just about contained the curdy, fragrant filling, with the treacle more of a counterpoint than a headline. Maybe just call it a lemon treacle tart. But, whatever you call it, it was a fantastic way to finish a meal that started just as well but flagged in the middle.
The mains just need to be brought up to the level of the stuff that bookends them – and it’s obvious from the quality everywhere else that this wouldn’t be a problem.
:: THE BILL
Chicken liver parfait £6.95
Black pudding scotch egg £5.95
Panko chicken goujons £12.95
Treacle tart £5
Sticky toffee pudding £5
Stillhouse Shrub £7.50
Seedlip Spice £4
Americano x2 £5.60