Monday 26 August 2019

Neven Maguire: 'Border controls would be a disaster for my restaurant'

Chef Neven Maguire fears for the future. Photo: Fran Veale
Chef Neven Maguire fears for the future. Photo: Fran Veale

Nick Bramhill

HIS high-end restaurant could hardly be any busier, with weekend sittings all but fully booked for the next two years.

But celebrity chef Neven Maguire said its border-town location gives him more reason to fear Brexit more than most Irish restaurateurs.

He said the reintroduction of customs controls would "be a disaster" for his hugely successful eaterie, MacNean House and Restaurant, in the border village of Blacklion.

A significant number of the Cavan restaurant's 60-strong staff are from just across the border in Co Fermanagh, while thousands of Ulster-based diners fill the business's tables and guestrooms every year.

With a return of a hard border not yet ruled out, the 43-year-old said he will be keeping a watchful eye on the implications of Brexit when Article 50 is triggered at the end of March.

"I think it could be a disaster for us if border controls came back," he said. "As things stand, the border is completely open now, and that's been great for the business.

"A lot of our staff come from up the road in Fermanagh.

We also get a lot of customers who travel down from Belfast and other parts of the North to have dinner and stay over."

Despite his fears, the award- winning TV chef said the past year has been one of his busiest, with nearly all weekend sittings booked up until the end of 2018.

To help cater for the huge demand at the remote culinary mecca, plans are under way for a €1.2m refurbishment which will add up to six more tables to the 14-table dining room, and increase the number of guestrooms from 19 to 25.

"There's always a waiting list and although we now take bookings two years in advance, it doesn't mean people won't get in because we do get a lot of cancellations," Neven said.

"But the expansion will mean we will be able to take more. It's not a massive expansion because I don't want the restaurant to lose the personal and intimate feel that customers love."

Besides running the restaurant, the guesthouse and his popular cookery school, Neven has found time in the past year to film TV shows, develop his 13th cookbook, host cookery demos and work as a brand ambassador for Dunnes Stores, not to metion spending quality time with wife Amelda and their four-year-old twins Connor and Lucia.

And although he will close the doors of MacNean House today for a well-earned six-day Christmas break, the workaholic chef revealed he won't be putting his feet up.

"We're entertaining 44 people on Christmas Day and I'll be doing all the cooking. I start preparing the meal two days before, but it's something I really look forward to.

"It's one of the few times of the year I get to cook for my family. That's not work for me, because I'll be doing something I really love doing."

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