MacNean House and restaurant is where Neven Maguire grew up; it’s where he first developed a love of cooking with his mother, it’s where he built his reputation and turned Blacklion into a culinary Mecca, and it is now where he works alongside his wife Amelda and a local team of up to fifty people to create remarkable food in a beautiful setting.
Getting to Blacklion is a bit like getting to southern Kerry; that's to say when you think you're nearly there, you're not. You reach Cavan town easily enough, but then you discover just how big a county Cavan is on the diagonal, because Blacklion is very near Enniskillen and about half a mile from the border.
The house has been extensively refurbished since Paolo last visited. The dining room is bigger, and is gracefully proportioned with large windows to the front and well spaced tables throughout. The décor is classic and opulent, and it is a very pleasing space indeed. To the right of the main door, where is memory serves the breakfast room once stood, is now an extended bar area, where pre and post dinner drinks are had.
Upstairs the house has also been extended into the next door building, and there are now 19 very beautiful rooms. Each is decorated individually; ours was a very tranquil duck egg blue with cream mirrors and dresser, with a lovely marble bathroom, which featured a stand alone claw legged tub.
We started our dinner in the bar, reading menus and having a glass of wine. They have two sittings on busy nights, and we were soon sharing a table with a couple who had just finished their meal. We got some pointers on their choices, and they were delighted with their evening so far, even though they had to drive on home. The menu is a set affair; there are two options, the Dinner menu is five courses and €72, or there is the Tasting menu with nine courses for €87. We decided on the Dinner menu, as Deirdre couldn’t see herself completing nine courses, and besides, I just knew five courses would soon become eight when amuse Bouche and pre-desserts were accounted for.
The wine list a well put together list with almost 200 hundred wines. It's divided by region so it's easy to find a favourite wine. The prices begin at €30, with most priced in the €40's including a Chablis, the Pouilly Fume and Pouilly Fusee, but they are a good selection and the prices are favourable when compared to other high end restaurants. There are some bargains as well; the 2003 Chateau Lynch Bages at €150 is only about twenty quid more that you'd pay retail and it begins. There's a good selection of half bottles as well, a service that more restaurants should offer in these days of the breathalyser.
Our first courses brought seared sea scallops with a lobster sausage and textures of pumpkin, which was a triumph of colour, flavour and presentation. There was beautiful colour on the scallops, and the little lobster roll was delicious. My duck terrine featured all elements of the bird; a confit, the terrine, a slice of smoked duck breast and a spring roll. If it suffered in comparison with the scallops it was only a case of a perfect ten looking down on nearly nine.
We continued with seabass for the lady, beautifully cooked and an unusual red wine jus worked beautifully, while my rabbit lasagne was inventive and beautiful to behold. After a palate cleansing sorbet, the third course – I suppose the main – brought us breast of local Thornhill duck, perfectly pink and with kale, red pepper polenta and a honey jus. This was Deirdre favourite dish, and it was both beautiful to eat and to look at; more art on a plate from the kitchen team. My dish of Assiette of pork was a treatment of elements; a Parma wrapped fillet fought to feature amongst a caramelised cheek, while a crispy belly and a shoulder spring roll did battle, all becoming a pleasing draw.
Pre dessert brought us rhubarb and ginger is a really cool glass, before a key lime panna cotta finished us off in some style.
Summing up this meal is hard; it had so many parts, and yet was greater than their sum. The food was set off by a dizzying selection of plates, bowls, slates and platters, and the service was impeccable throughout. On the night we visited there were people from Cork and Belfast, from Limerick to Leitrim; all collected in this lovely restaurant in the wilds of Cavan, eating dinner in this most unlikely place, that wouldn’t exist except for the dreams and energy of a man who learned to love food at his mother’s knee. There’s a book there somewhere. In the meantime, MacNean House and restaurant is exceptional.