OUNTY FER­MANAGH, LO­CA­TION

Taste & Travel - - Road Trip -

of the ex­clu­sive Lough Erne Re­sort, is fa­mous for its lake fish, is­land-pas­tured lamb, Inish­mac­saint beer, and Pres­i­dent Obama's favourite, Ket­tyle beef. I know Obama liked the beef be­cause Noel McMeel, the award-win­ning ex­ec­u­tive chef who fed the G8 lead­ers, told me so.

For a celebrity chef, McMeel's as down to earth as they come. Born (not that long ago) in a cottage with­out elec­tric­ity, he has never lost touch with his roots, or the foods that nur­tured his fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions.

McMeel was the first of many out­stand­ing chefs I met in NI who cited the qual­ity of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents as the rea­son for their suc­cess. McMeel's sig­na­ture dish, a mixed grill, fea­tures a suc­cu­lent beef fil­let topped with seared lamb kid­ney; a lamb cut­let marinated in lemon and herbs; con­fit pork belly; Ir­ish pota­toes and a free-range egg. Pris­tine in­gre­di­ents and ar­ti­sanal foods are not hard to come by in this part of the world. Iso­lated for decades by The Trou­bles, NI missed out on mod­ern­iz­ing trends in the food in­dus­try. Those times of hard­ship reaped a re­ward — most of NI's sus­te­nance still comes lo­cally, from farm, field and sea, and a larder stocked with home­made sta­ples.

From Lough Erne I steered my rental car though twist­ing coun­try lanes to the vil­lage of Don­agh­more, home to a hand­some stone Celtic cross and The Brewer's House, named Ire­land's best gas­tropub in 2013. Own­ers Ciaran and Vicki McAus­land gave up ca­reers in Lon­don to re­turn to the fam­ily pub, res­ur­rect­ing the craft of brew­ing in Don­agh­more af­ter a hia­tus of 150 years.

The menu at The Brewer's House fea­tures lo­cal farm sup­pli­ers and veg­eta­bles plucked from a kitchen plot out back. Pink rosettes of peat-smoked salmon glowed on a dark slab of lo­cal slate. Chow­der, chock full of good­ies from the Ir­ish Sea, came with thick slices of stout-moist­ened bread and a pat of farm­house but­ter. The Brewer's House in­au­gu­ral beer, Red Hand Pale Ale, is de­li­cious — fra­grant and spicy with hints of cit­rus, pine and apri­cots.

From Don­agh­more to the lit­tle town of Magher­afelt and Ditty's Bak­ery, in busi­ness for two gen­er­a­tions. Robert Ditty, a ruddy-faced gi­ant in rub­ber boots, in­tro­duced me to the tra­di­tional Ir­ish breads — oat­cakes, soda bread, Scot­tish pancakes and potato farls. Farls are a North­ern spe­cialty. The word means ‘quad­rants' — the breads are cut from a cir­cle of dough. Leg­end says they orig­i­nated in the Belfast ship­yards

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