The Old Church Restaurant is beside the An Grianan Hotel, half way between Letterkenny and Derry, The most obvious feature on the skyline here is a massive Mesolithic circular stone ring fort, 'Grianan of Aileach'. The design of the hotel picks up on this tradition, the front is made of stone and the curves of the façade echo the fort on the hill.
Alongside this newly built hotel is an old de-consecrated church, which is where you will find the restaurant. The church was de-consecrated some time ago and was run as a restaurant for some years by Alan Lyttle. Now it's part of the hotel, Alan has remained on, and working with Ian Kinsella they have managed continuity and creativity together.
The inside of the church has been quite cleverly converted into a dining room. There are now several levels, with well spaced tables and comfortable chairs, and a set dinner menu which seems to be incredibly good value. It offers two courses for only €23.90 or three courses for €29.85. What’s a bit special here, apart from the unusual numbers, is the inclusion of an Amuse Bouche and a sorbet in the middle, so really it’s four or five courses for a very low price.
The last time Paolo was here he said, “given what I've said about ‘no rip-off' Donegal, I was still amazed by the menu in ‘The Old Church'. Frankly, even if the food turned out to be no better than average, that would be astounding value.” It seems that the value part of the equation here hasn’t changed at all, and so to the food.
The Amuse Bouche was a little tower of bacon, foie gras and black pudding which did what this intro is supposed to do, amused and got the taste buds going. A starter of Clonakilty pudding and goats cheese was exceptionally good, not least because the cheese was Bluebell Falls, one of my favourites, which always makes the return journey home with me when I visit Westport, where it’s for sale on Kate McCormack’s wonderful butchers shop. It was a lovely surprise to see it on the menu.
Next up was the palate cleansing sorbet, which set me up nicely for the main course of locally sourced venison. It came perfectly pink and sliced on top of garlic mash and the most delicious roasted fennel, with a claret and red currant jus. This was a corker of a meal; all the elements were perfect, from the tender venison to the crunchy fennel; the soft goat’s cheese and the almost crunchy pudding. Thought and talent went into a meal that could have cost twice the price for half the flavour.
The An Grianan Hotel is lovely for a weekend break but make no mistake; The Old Church Restaurant is a destination in itself. Paolo described it as ‘outstanding’ four years ago. There’s no argument from me, except that it is possibly now an understatement.