Falling in Love with Lough Erne at Pop-Up Dinner in Enniskillen Castle
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Falling in Love with Lough Erne at Pop-Up Dinner in Enniskillen Castle

Anyone who loves food – and Irish food in particular – will know that 2016 has been designated as Northern Ireland’s Year of Food & Drink. Over the course of the past few months there have been many exciting events promoting the North’s vibrant food scene. This initiative has successfully shown that Northern Ireland has many talented chefs and top-class restaurants who are supported by some of the best food producers to be found anywhere in the world.

Fermanagh’s food and drinks producers are also playing their part in the Year of Food & Drink. The county is home to many of Northern Ireland’s top restaurants and this coupled with its beautiful countryside makes it a popular holiday destination for many. Fermanagh Lakeland Tourism, in conjunction with the local restaurant industry recently organised Fermanagh Restaurant Week which concluded last weekend with the two-day long Festival Lough Erne.

One of the highlights of the week was a pop-up dinner hosted by Lough Erne Resort which took place in the impressive surroundings of the recently refurbished Enniskillen Castle. Needless to say, I was thrilled to be invited to the dinner and along with the other guests was treated to a truly delicious meal devised by Noel McMeel, Lough Erne’s charismatic and talented Executive Head Chef.

The evening kicked off in a stylish way with a Drinks Gathering in Enniskillen Castle to the sounds of the Arco String Quartet playing in the background. Guests sipped on glasses of Prosecco and a fruit punch made using MacIvors Artisan Cider. Given my love of Irish gin, I particularly enjoyed the Pimm’s & Lough Erne Gin Cocktail made using Pimm’s No. 1 and the recently launched Boatyard Distillery Gin. Tasty canapés including Local Tomato Essence & Poteen Shot with Dublin Bay Prawn & Toomebridge Eel and Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese, Garden Green Salad, Dulse & Yellowman, made using locally sourced ingredients, set the gastronomic tone for the evening which carried through to the meal that followed.

Entitled ‘Fall in Love with Lough Erne’ the dinner took the form of a three-course meal made up of a series of sharing platters. The first-course platters were already laid out on the tables as guests took their seats in the upstairs gallery area in the Castle which was our dining room for the evening. Breads, meats, seafood, salads amongst many other local delicacies packed each table and in no-time-at-all the assembled diners were tucking in and passing around the generously laden platters. The great thing about sharing meals and communal eating of this type is that all tastes and sizes of appetite are catered for and understandably this contributed to the great atmosphere in the room.

The meats were outstanding and included Pat O’Doherty Braised Pork Belly (heavenly with the Spiced Apple Chutney by Erin Grove Preserves), a fabulous Corned Beef & Cabbage and Tedford’s Potted Ham but for me the stand out dish of this first course was the Keenan’s Whiskey Cured Irish Salmon with Crispy Capers. The curing process had tenderised the top-quality salmon so that it literally melted in the mouth. Accompanying the seafood and meats were some of Noel McMeel’s signature breads from Lough Erne Resort including a wonderful Curry Bread. Rocket Salad and an Orchard Baby Beets & Apple Salad completed this spread.

Mains Platters included Kettyle Sirloin of Irish Beef, Pat’s Deep Dish Boxty, Roast Carrots and were accompanied by a piquantHorseradish Slaw and rich Beef Gravy. The beef was superb and had been cooked simply but perfectly to highlight its sublime flavour. If this were to be my last meal on earth, I would die a happy woman.

The meal finished with another seemingly simple but delectable dish of Fermanagh Strawberries, Chantilly Cream and a buttery Shortbread Biscuit. Too many chefs tend to overcomplicate dishes and in my opinion the sign of a great chef is one who knows when to reign in these tendencies and who recognises when great ingredients should be allowed to speak for themselves. This takes skill and a true love of the produce being used. Noel McMeel is lucky in that he has a bountiful local larder to choose from but he is also a chef who understands the beauty of the ingredients that he uses. I thoroughly enjoyed this meal and I look forward with great anticipation to the rest that Northern Ireland’s Year of Food & Drink has to offer.

niamh mannion bio pic

Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.

An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.

Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.

Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.

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