Monaghan is one of Ireland’s hidden gems. I don’t usually like using that term as people tend to overuse it and call everything a hidden gem. But the county, which may not always be on a visitor’s bucket list, is definitely one which should not be overlooked.
This is especially true when looking at some of the food options in the area, in particular, The Courthouse restaurant in Carrickmacross. At the end of an active weekend exploring all Monaghan has to offer (more on that at a later date), myself and my colleague Roisin couldn’t resist a final stop before the journey back to Dublin.
The Courthouse Restaurant is owned and run by Charlotte and Conor and the cosy venue is a Michelin Bib Gourmand awarded restaurant.
Upon entering the beautifully understated restaurant, you immediately feel at ease. Beneath the high wood panelled ceiling, the place was buzzing for a Sunday lunchtime in September.
There were two family groups, one of which was definitely celebrating a birthday or christening and there was also an elderly couple and a younger group.
There was such variety in the guests that we knew instantly that this was a family-friendly restaurant which appeals to all tastes and palates.
Indeed, their website claims to offer “seasonal cuisine with a focus on local, Irish produce. Specialities include house dry aged beef, wild seafood and sourced wine. All served in a rustic space with warm and informal service.” From first inspection of the surroundings and menu, I could already tell that this claim was to be wholeheartedly proved.
Kicking off our dining experience were two starters that more than pulled their weight and set the bar quite high for the rest of our lunch.
My Buttermilk Fried Quail with Romensco Sauce and Aioli was the perfect way to start a meal. These crispy bites of indulgence were accompanied by some flaked almonds. One of the restaurant’s special starters, this dish was fried but not greasy and the spicy tomato kick really elevated this tasty bite.
My dining companion went for the Fried Fivemiletown Goat’s Cheese with pepper, honey and pine nuts. An equally delicious choice (we were both clearly craving a little fried food), the cheese slowly seeped from the crispy outer shell, much like a poached egg.
With the bar set quite high for starters, we turned to face the main course and my Crispy Duck Confit with Pickle Wild Blackberries and Cabbage was just beautiful. With crackling crispy skin, the tender meat blissfully fell off the bone.
I usually don’t eat the skin if I’m in a healthy mood but this one was too good not to devour. The berries added a welcome burst of sweetness to this comforting dish and the green cabbage added a pop of colour to the plate. Finally, the mashed potatoes reminded me of my youth, but ten times better.
Across the table was the Roast Cod with Shellfish Sauce and Greens, which I gathered from the smiles and lack of conversation as a great sign of approval.
Our mains were accompanied by sautéed carrots in a mustard sauce and roast potatoes. Not usually one to shout home about sides, especially those commonly found in a Sunday roast, but these were just divine.
Dessert was a delightful experience, with my companion, a chocolate fiend, choosing the White Chocolate Ganache with raspberries and shortcake.
The shaven crumble and raspberry sorbet only added to what was both a delicious and visually pleasing dessert.
Willing to be led by the knowledgable staff, I agreed to try out the day’s special, a Homemade Pavlova with Strawberries and Cream.
Though the name suggests a classic and simple dish, the difference here is that this seemingly simple food is prepared to perfection and when excellent ingredients are put to such great use, the result is a positively wonderful and sinful dish.
Beautifully plated, the toasted almonds and mint leaves gave the dessert an extra oomph and the only thing that would tear me away from my plate was the fact that I devoured every last crumb.
Throughout lunch, I had been admiring the ceramic plates and crockery, which I later found out all came from Busy Bee, a local producer from Glaslough, further proof that The Courthouse is rooted in the locality.
While in Monaghan, I felt nothing but warmth from the people around me. Everyone is supportive of other businesses. The owners of the nearby Brehon Brewhouse, who I had met earlier that day, had raved about The Courthouse and love to visit for dinner. Their produce is actally also on sale in the restaurant.
An absolute steal, our three course Sunday lunch in The Courthouse was priced at just €27 per person.
REVIEW BY SARAH GLASCOTT