Country house gourmet getaway

Newforge house is a younger, trendier Blue Book property, where great food is part of the deal

John Mathers in the kitchen at Newforge House John Mathers in the kitchen at Newforge House

John Mathers in the kitchen at Newforge House John Mathers in the kitchen at Newforge House

Sat, Mar 30, 2013, 06:00

John and Louise Mathers’ Newforge House in Magheralin, Co Armagh, is one of a new generation of Blue Book properties, run by savvy young people who know that today’s guests may want tables for two rather than communal dining, craft beers as well as an interesting wine list, and reception rooms they can relax in rather than feeling they are pushing great-granny off her favourite perch. Their pretty, six-bedroom Georgian house ticks all those boxes, and there’s an ace to play too – John is a trained chef and Louise is a sublime baker.

The couple spent two years renovating Newforge, which had been John’s family home through six generations, before opening for business in 2005. The comfortable bedrooms all have lavish bathrooms stocked with White Company products. They are given the maiden names of the matriarchs who lived there, Spence, Pickering, Gaynor, Waddell, Hanna and Beaumont.

The drawing room, where we meet for drinks before dinner, has lots of small groups of seating, as well as sofas arranged around a blazing fire. It’s elegant and refined, but not stuffy.

The three-course dinner menu majors on local ingredients, some of which come from the kitchen garden. Home-grown Jerusalem artichokes join award-winning guanciale, from Hannan Meats in nearby Moira, in a textbook risotto.

Main course options include roast turbot with tarragon beurre blanc. But it’s the beef I’m here to try – Shorthorn from the Glenarm Estate matured in Europe’s first Himalayan salt chamber (see page 18). Mathers pairs a tender roasted ribeye, bathed in garlic and herb butter, with braised cheek, fragrant with star anise and fennel. Only two diners opt for Louise’s pear and chocolate tart for dessert, because it has competition from a tour of Ireland ’s best cheesemakers – no fewer than 11 of them represented on the boards served to each diner, with home-made crackers. After dinner, coffee and truffles are served in the drawing room, and if you’re up for it, there’s a whiskey and whisky menu, with detailed tasting notes.

Newforge House is a lovely spot for a short break; with food this good you won’t want to leave its cocooning luxury. It also hosts small weddings and is available for private hire. Two-night breaks with one dinner cost from £145 (€170) per person. See newforgehouse.com and irelands-blue-book.ie.