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A nose for country style…

May 25th, 2017 | by LCN Editor
A nose for country style…
Venue Spotlight
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Popular Hillsborough dining pub, The Parson’s Nose, has unveiled a new ‘country chic’ look following a £500,000, 12-week redevelopment programme.

The recent £500,000 revamp at The Parson’s Nose in Hillsborough has thoroughly transformed the busy venue which, along with Balloo House at Killinchy and The Poacher’s Pocket at Comber, constitutes the Balloo Inns group, owned by Ronan and Jennifer Sweeney.

The redevelopment has added an additional 40 covers to the dining quota at the village venue, bringing its full complement to 120 seats.

The property itself has been expanded at the back, increasing the size of the old dining room and offering lovely new views out over Hillsborough Lake. And the rear of the premises, which previously suffered from a lack of natural light, has been opened out into the beer garden:

“The whole flow of the place at the back really has improved a lot now,” Ronan told LCN this month. “I think we’ve brought a lot more country chic to The Parson’s Nose where before, it was much more a classic Georgian look. That was the brief to our designer and I think he’s managed to do that very well without losing any of the character of the original venue.

“There’s now a real cosiness to the Parson’s Nose. There are four different rooms on variouslevels throughout the building. We’re very lucky, I think, in that if you hear of somewhere that has a 120-cover restaurant, you might think of one huge room with 120 seats in it, but the biggest room at The Parson’s Nose has 50 covers and the other three rooms are smaller, each with their own distinct ambience.”

Ronan began his career working for hospitality veteran, Bill Wolsey. After four years at that, in December 2003, Balloo House came onto the market and Ronan jumped at the chance. He and Jennifer bought the place and went on to focus on transforming its food offering. These days, the 400-year-old venue has a formidable reputation as a gastro-pub and fine-dining restaurant.

Then, in 2009, The Parson’s Nose went up for sale in Hillsborough and Ronan and Jennifer took it on:

“Our intention at the start had been to refurbish the premises,” recalls Ronan. “In the event, however we spent £100,000 on redecoration and refurbishing the kitchen and the turnover just went bananas, it went from strength to strength. We found there was a considerable demand here for a gastropub and we realised that there wasn’t really any need for further investment just at that time.”

Then, in December 2012, the former Lisbarnett House restaurant came onto the market:

“Rather than invest in The Parson’s Nose at that time when, we felt, it still didn’t need any additional financial help, we decided to buy and refurbish Lisbarnett House and it was really in much more need of some urgent investment.”

The Sweeney’s spent a total of around £400,000 redeveloping Lisbarnett House, which they then renamed The Poacher’s Pocket.

“Really, it took us 18 months to get that place the way we wanted it,” says Ronan. “We re-opened in April 2014 and turnover at The Poacher’s Pocket now is higher than it’s ever been and we’re really delighted to see the place developing into a great, local community pub.”

 

The planning application for the current round of improvements at The Parson’s Nose went through in January last year. Hillsborough itself is a historic village and a heritage site so it took upwards of 11 months to satisfy planners that the designs for the new dining pub would be properly sympathetic to the area.

Work began at The Parson’s Nose in January this year and the venue closed for 12 weeks, re-opening again on March 26:

“That’s quite a long time to be closed”, admits Ronan, “but to be honest, January and February are quiet months anyway and our big fear was really that the work would run on into the Easter period. But we had a great team on the job, great builders and shop-fitters who worked seven-days-a-week and we were able to re-open in good time.”

Ronan says that customer feedback on the new-look Parson’s Nose has been “overwhelmingly positive”:

“People have loved the fresh feel of the new place and they have told us that they think that the new menu is a little more family friendly as well. We’re now offering a full range of wood-smoked sourdough pizzas alongside our full menu and we think that’s attracting more families to The Parson’s Nose.

“It was a gamble to get involved in the whole wood-smoked pizza side of things, I think you can go too Italian and people think that you’ve changed your whole menu, but we’ve not done that, we’ve just added a pizza section and families love it.”

Well-known local chef, Danny Millar, has been executive chef at all the venues since 2006 and Ronan says that he and his kitchen team have been central to the group’s ongoing success:

“Balloo Inns is doing really well,” he adds “Country pubs are probably always going to have to compete with the city centre venues to retain their custom, but we are really focused on increasing our quality levels and if we can see any opportunity to do that, then we have got to go there because things are tougher in the rural areas.”

Ronan also says that while there are no firm expansion plans in place for the group, he certainly wouldn’t let a good opportunity go by:

“At the moment, we’re just trying to improve on everything,” he adds. “Our product has been well received overall and our job now is to be the best that we can be. We don’t want to lose any of the ground that we’ve gained so far, we have a reputation for quality food and hospitality and we don’t want to let that crown slip.”

 

 

 

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