The Carrie Kells – Foodie Review

afternoon tea in a perspex dome at the carrie restaurant in kells

The Carrie Kells opens with an airy entrance graced with confident Shaker-style furniture, shabby chic touches and welcoming bouquets of fresh flowers. Inside, a smoky fireplace calls hungry regulars in the know. The food on offer is chef-inspired and designer as heck – but delivered in hearty, country-sized portions.

The Carrie restaurant in Kells sits on the Kells Water river on the site of the former Old Green Woollen Mill. This tiny hamlet of just over 2000 souls is named after Christian monastic cells (Irish: na cealla) that were established in the area in the late 5th century and early 6th. Then, in the Middle Ages right up to the late 17th century, an Augustian community was also established in the area. Its ruins can be found in the grounds of the modern day Dinsmore, a local textile sourcing and processing warehouse whose incredible history stretches back as far as the original Templemoyle Mills that were established there by Harry Dinsmore in 1791! Residents of Northern Ireland refer to the wider Ballymena area as ‘The Bible Belt’. Many locals will be unsurprised at the varying Christian traditions that have been living, studying and worshipping in this area for a very long time.

the carrie kells restaurant
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

The Vibe at The Carrie Kells

The restaurant is tucked away down a little laneway on this former mill site, one of many of the Mills of Northern Ireland. It is housed in a modern, warehouse-style building that was formerly used as a garden centre.

A traditional, smoky warmth from sharp, dry blocks of locally hewn wood on the fire drifts out from the restaurant into a welcoming hallway with a large reception area and a wedding venue off to one side. Inside the restaurant, the backdrop is set with heavy, wooden beams, lintels and panelling. An oversized stone fireplace with a traditional, wrought iron, swing-arm pot holder was already glowing on our arrival at 09:30am, awaiting the reliable and informed local patrons. A stack of wood, coal scuttle and candles sat in attendance on the sides.

the carrie kells restaurant fireplace
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

The modern rustic theme is continued with simply set tables. Each is adorned with a single country rose in an old-time, glass milk jar reminiscent of free milk days established in Northern Ireland primary schools in the early 1900s and still enjoyed right up until the mid-nineties. Recycled doors positioned around the large dining area provide a sense of privacy between tables, while heavy, bronzed floor tiles and a simple, light paint palette and squishy scatter cushions complete the look. This is a place designed with thought to allow lingering in comfort over meals with loved ones.

the carrie kells restaurant food
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

A Hearty Welcome With a Mixed Clientele

The Carrie has nailed their clientele. We breakfasted among a mixture of older men ready for a week’s worth of natter free from family demands; a few smaller groups of friends like us catching up on 6 months worth of work or travel news and plans; the usual smattering of couples stopping off between Saturday errands; and a couple of family gatherings. All were there for one thing: delicious food made with produce sourced from the same type of locals who eat there, served with one eye on quality and another on freshness.

the carry kells restaurant vegetarian options
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

The waitress was bright and charming, efficiently taking our food order, then later, more coffee orders. How do they remember four coffee orders without taking notes?! A request for a single coffee while we waited for our party to assemble and another pot of tea after we’d already been served were both fulfilled immediately. Owners of restaurants and cafes with grumpy servers who loathe serving, take note!

outdoor pods
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

At the front of the restaurant, there are a few pandemic-friendly perspex pods complete with blow heaters, and some picnic tables.

The restaurant was packed to capacity by knowledgeable locals by 10:30 am. The restaurant is open to 9 pm, offers a modest wine selection and a cocktail menu including a fruity gin ‘Bramble’.

What About the Food?

Everything we had was fresh, cooked to perfection, tasty, and well presented on pristine tableware. For me, the crockery stood out simply because it was spotless – unfortunately, not something that is guaranteed elsewhere.

breakfast fry
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

We had four breakfasts:

  • Small Fry – a filling fry (pleasantly dry, not greasy) with one of everything including sausage, bacon, egg, pancake, potato bread, accompanied by a choice of mushrooms or baked beans
  • Big Fry – a very filling version of the above, only with two servings of everything!
  • Pancakes, bacons and maple syrup
  • Cherry scone

While we’d no room for desserts after breakfast (a common, pleasing combo when we dine out), we noticed the dessert blackboard included a family favourite Jam Sponge and Custard, which in itself best describes the food on offer – home-made, solid and familiar fair at reasonable prices. I’ve yet to sample it to determine whether it can beat my mum’s failsafe version.

Image credit: The Carrie Kells

The Carrie Restaurant in Kells offers Sunday dinners and is exactly the type of place to go if you fancy locally-sourced, traditional, comfort food made with care, sculpted onto your plate and enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. This is no sleepy pub-grub slathered in gravy. If The Carrie on Instagram or Facebook is anything to go by, the chef has an eye for visual presentation – yet helping sizes remain reassuringly country-sized. And, as a part-time vegetarian with a few close friends and family with restrictive diets, I was also especially pleased to see some alternative options across the menus.

There are several menus on offer:

  • 4 TEN 4 – a budget-friendly three-course menu
  • Early Bird
  • take The Carrie out – carry-out options including full meals
  • The Carrie – an a La Carte selection
  • Sunday Lunch

In an unexpected twist, the restaurant also does weddings. Couples can book the entire restaurant out and it can cater for approximately 50-60 people.

kells weddings
Image credit: The Carrie Kells

The day we visited, the wedding ceremony room was already set up in a style I’d suggest is ‘pretty rustic’ – heavy on the antiqued wood, draped greenery and flower garlands with a large table set for feasting.

This discovery has been added to my roster of reliable spots to stop off for a day-trip treat. Locals: breathe not a word of this to the tourists!

What Else is There to Do in Kells?

  • Book a custom tour that can incorporate local history, culture, music and food with Roots Revealed, Natalie Bodle. Natalie also offers personalised Genealogy Services, House Histories for those who want to uncover the history of their home, Document Retrieval and assistance with Irish Citizenship.
  • Many cafes and restaurants in the area have a regular subset of serious cyclist visitors and other outdoor types coming from the Glens of Antrim, Larne, Lough Neagh, and Mid Ulster areas. Check out CycleNI, WalkNI, TrekNI and CanoeNI for local routes.
  • If you need even more adrenaline, try Raceview Karting in Ballymena. Need for Speed Indoor Karting is also just up the road in Ballyclare. The Burn Road makes for a nice scenic route toward its location.
portglenone forest trail northern ireland
Portglenone Forest walking trail – Image credit: blogger’s own

Information on The Carrie Kells

Find out more about The Carrie in Northern Ireland. Follow them on Instagram or Facebook. Get there before 11:00 am on Saturday mornings to secure a table nearest to the open hearth fire.

Images credit: all images supplied with permission by The Carrie Restaurant, unless otherwise stated

Dawn Baird
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