One of Northern Ireland’s emerging chefs has been appointed by the new owners to head up the kitchens at Ardtara Country House….with buffalo meat top of his menu.

Eddie Attwell, 28, twice a Roux scholarship finalist, and who once worked in the kitchens at L’Enclume, a Michelin two-star restaurant in the English Lake District, was recruited by Browns Restaurant Group which has taken over the award winning 19th century manor on the edge of the Sperrin Mountains.

Co-owner & Head Chef of The Browns Group, Ian Orr said: “He has been on my radar for some time, probably since his first scholarship in 2012.  He is innovative, exciting and passionate and just the sort of chef we need to maintain the Browns level of food and service at Ardtara”.

Ardtara, just outside the village of Upperlands, formerly the home of the Clark family, the world famous linen makers, is one of Northern Ireland finest rural accommodation and dining establishments and the choice of Attwell as head chef will be central to its future development with his new menu an important feature.

Attwell, originally from Craigavon, spent almost eight years in England after he left catering college.  It was during his time at L’Enclume where he learned to grow herbs and forage. Dan Cox, executive chef at Claridges in London was one of his mentors and with eight acres of adjoining land, Ardtara’s chef wasted no time finding wild vegetables, including three types of mushrooms.

And he has already come up with his first meat speciality – prime cuts of water buffalo from a herd reared on a farm two miles from Magherafelt.  Milk from the animals will also be used to make butter and cheese.

He said: “This is an unbelievable opportunity for me to make a major statement as a chef.  Ardtara is the first place which I can really call home. I’m the person in charge.  The buck stops with me and I’m out to make a serious impression.”

“I will be drawing heavily on local produce. I think I’ll be the first chef anywhere in Ireland who will be serving water buffalo.  That should make for

interesting times and the fact that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in my career growing and foraging will be an enormous benefit.  There is plenty of mushrooms in the grounds at Ardtara and I plan to have my own garden to grow the herbs.

“It’s all about natural cooking and creating the right flavours.  I’ve even been down to the shores of Strangford Lough to find a few varieties of sea herbs.”

Attwell who moved to his new job after a year at the Schoolhouse Restaurant, near Comber, Co Down added: “This is a massive challenge for me, it really is. Ian is a brilliant chef in his own right. He has placed his faith in me and I’m determined not to let him down.”

Orr who worked as a chef with the late Robbie Millar at Shanks near Bangor, and also at the River Café in London where Jamie Oliver first started, launched his restaurant business six years ago with co-owner Marcus Roulston.  There are two Browns restaurants in Londonderry/Derry and one in Letterkenny and the purchase of their new premises in the Mid Ulster countryside represents another big investment.

Managing director Roulston said: “The purchase of Ardtara is part of the group’s long term strategy. It’s an establishment with a long and distinguished history, representing all that is good in first class accommodation and fine dining and having Eddie in charge of the kitchen is massively important for us. He is such an exciting young chef.”

The buffalo meat is coming from a herd reared by Michael O’Brien, a former beef farmer who decided four years ago to switch from cattle and develop a new commercial enterprise.

“Friends and neighbours agreed to take part in tasting sessions and the response has been 99.9% positive,” he said. “They loved it, especially the burgers which are low on fat and full of protein.”

Food critic Joris Minne said Orr had been instrumental in raising the North West culinary reputation in the last three years and his choice of Attwell to take charge of the kitchen will be key, he claimed.

He added:  His arrival at Ardtara has already prompted glowing reviews from some of Belfast’s and Dublin’s most respected food bloggers. Ardtara represents the core of Ulster traditions and culture and Attwell’s cooking relies on the best local produce available. This means game, fish, beef, pork and poultry to rival anything in Ireland.”

Over the past 20 years, Ardtara Country House has hosted ‘romantic couples’, ‘golfing heroes’, ‘Nobel prize winners’, ‘Olympic  champions’, ‘Hollywood celebrities’, as well as thousands of loyal locals while garnering kudos from discerning reviewers such as:

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER  (“One of the five best hotels in the country”),

The AA (“Most Romantic Hotel of the Year”),

CONDE NAST TRAVELER (“Offers superb fare and sublimely comfortable rooms each with a glowing fireplace”).

Ardtara has been a member of the prestigious ~Ireland’s Blue Book~ since 2004 (a collection of Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses, Castles and Restaurants);