Ardtara Country House Upperlands – Foodie Review

Views from Maghera out toward Slieve Commedagh and Slieve Donnard

Ardtara Country House was built in 1876 by Harry Clark and it remained a family home until 1970s. It was repurchased in 1990 and converted into a hotel in 1994. The estate on which the property sits is insulated from the modern world in a noise-cancelling cocoon of towering, mature trees on the outskirts of the hamlet of Upperlands. It turns out that there is a Redwood in the front garden!

Upperlands is a hamlet of just 561 residents whos most famous, modern former Upperlands resident is is Wendy Houvenaghel. I happened to attend the same school, and remember that she was ambitious and athletic even then. Wendy won an Olympic silver medal for the UK in the 3000m pursuit in Beijing and a gold medal in the Track World Championships in 2008 and 2009 respectively. She has also won various British national competitions and represented England at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

The Vibe at Ardtara Country House

The solid, dark exterior of this Victorian mansion house is softened with window boxes and urns bursting with colourful Geranium blooms set against thick, hairy leaves.

Inside, the first thing that greets your eyes is the gloriously faded, original wallpaper set into the panelled walls of the 1920s-styled reception hall. There is a stillness and a slight echo as you await the arrival of your host from a quietly bustling ambiance just out of sight.

A Fine Welcome with No Pretentiousness

We were offered the choice of two salons to peruse the menu: a sitting room or the bar. We chose the sitting room, ready for some Austen/Bronte vibes. The heavy green of the wraparound trees outside provide a quilt-like feeling indoors. The tall, mottled marble fireplace, oversized wooden furniture and sumptuous sofas allow you to sink into comfort.

We were brought a dish of briny, mixed olives and a sample poke of home made potato crisps while we selected our meals.

The high ceilinged, wood-panelled room we dined in was called the Clark Room. Painted in faded mint, with dark wood frames and topped by a wallpaper freeze that reaches the ceiling, this room is a perfect backdrop for the understated service and high class dining. Pristine white linen tablecloths complete the elegant look. The vibe is welcoming and warm, but with subtle refinement.

What About the Food?

Ardtara surprises and delights with its layers of fine dining. The menu is peppered with French words that let you know the food has been well researched and will be presented with the panache required of such surroundings.

Along with two large glass bottles of complimentary eau de vie (sparkling) and still water on the table, we were no sooner seated than our gallant waiter spirited little soupçons of mackerel in cream – amuse-bouches to entertain until the starter arrived. This was accompanied by a small bread assortment of moist Guinness wheaten and white bread, along with pats of white and an unusual black butter. My dining companion enjoyed both mini mackerel dishes while I sampled the bread.

Starters

  • French onion soup with a reassuringly soaked crouton and an elegant amount of parmesan, garlic and butter
  • Quail breast, leg wonton, polenta and pomegranate

Mains

  • Creamy spinach and ricotta ravioli with chestnut mushrooms, parmesan, and more of that white butter
  • Donegal venison, Jerusalem artichoke, pear, and almond

Dessert

  • Carmelised lemon cheesecake with raspberry cream
  • Irish cheese selection, homemade crackers, and quince with onion chutney

Our bill, which included just one glass of wine, came to just a smidge over £100, handsomely funded by a gift voucher.

Ardtara is both a step back into a more reserved era and a glimpse into how locally-sourced ingredients can be prepared with love, arranged with aplomb and savoured at length.

What Else is There to Do in Upperlands?

The hamlet of Upperlands is home to just under 600 people. It has a restored mill left over from the historical linen industry, established there by the Clark family who originally owned the Ardtara Country House. The remaining industrial buildings a café, and are situated right next to the wildly gushing river that used to power the mill, which can also be viewed from a building opposite the café. There is a small row of terraced linen workers’ houses in the village, Boyne Row, that enjoys listed building status.

Ardtara Country House lists its own local recommended places to visit.

Information on Ardtara Country House

Find out more about current Special Offers at Ardtara Country House and their beautiful Rooms. Or, if you’re planning an elegant Wedding or other Event, this secluded country house is worth checking out.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Dawn Baird
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