Today’s review is a combined effort because a few months ago Nick Acheson from the Sony Centre in Belfast won my job as restaurant critic.
To my alarm, the Belfast Telegraph had donated the job to NI Hospice as a prize at a gala dinner. Along came Nick with the winning ticket and I was looking for a new career. Almost. Because Nick and I then agreed to co-write the review which this week is of the Boat House in Bangor, a place he had never visited.
A confirmed gastronome, Nick’s views turned out to be based on experience and fine knowledge. He brought with him his pal Glenn Waddell. It’s quiet this Thursday night but not empty and while the unusual circumstances of this review mean we’ve been expected by chef Joery Castel, we notice that the other diners receive the same degree of attention. It’s not fawning; more like he is offering punctuations of information and hospitality.
Nick and Glenn kick off their seven-course tasting menu (I’m taking the minutes and have a starter and main) with scallops which come as part of an intricate composition including apple jelly and a large, clear, thin and crisp apple roundel. They are impressed. The small scallops’ briney flavour and soft sponginess are intense and the sweet and slightly sour apple heightens the flavours, says Nick. “It’s well balanced and a great starter, but it sets the bar very high for the next dish,” he adds.
But the next dish maintains the standard — a golden coloured mussel veloute in a whiskey glass featuring pickled mussels and edible sand made from puffed wild rice. It’s entertaining and rich and nodding towards some of the culinary trickery performed by Alain Ducasse and Heston Blumenthal.
Both Nick and Glenn are getting into gear now and are savouring every mouthful trying to identify flavours, debating among themselves and with me whether or not the wild rice works even if it’s there as a third texture. It’s not confusion — it’s just that it’s been so long since either one of them have enjoyed something this fine that it takes time to recalibrate the critical faculties to the job in hand.
The little pattie of braised filet of beef with red peppercorns and sourdough crumbs is topped with a generous mound
of pickled girolles. Now they’re getting really critical. Nick says the thing about braising steak is that it hardly matters what the quality of the meat is in the first place but it’s the pickled girolles which are causing the problem. They’re too powerful for the gentle warmth of the steak. Glenn says the vinegar numbs the tongue so if you eat them first, it casts anything that comes afterwards into a shadow.
A filet of brill with saffron potato, potato sauce, hollandaise, citrus gel and frozen grapes sounds like Joery has rifled the fridge and thrown everything at the plate. But it all combines beautifully, creating a scale of flavours and textures which sit easily with each other.
The moment we’ve been waiting for — roast goose breast with Jerusalem artichoke cream, croquettes, red cabbage and liquorice jus is outstanding. The meat of the goose is like a very intense duck, slightly gamey, dark, tender and deep flavoured. It’s an absolute winner and the artichoke cream creates instant addiction.
Nick is now texting his wife declaring that he’s found somewhere as good as Shanks. I can’t repeat what she sent back.
As the cheese course is on its way I think Joery can relax now. Yet what he has done with the cheese is so good he’s going to repeat it at this year’s annual Restaurants Association of Ireland gala dinner as guest chef. Crozier blue cheese, carrot and hempseed crisp, macaroon, white chocolate sauce, clue cheese cream, hemp oil powder and crushed hazelnut provide excitement at a moment when you least expect it. The Crozier blue is wonderful and the hemp oil powder which vanishes in the mouth leaving a hint of grassiness on the tongue are truly memorable.
Less memorable perhaps is the treacle tart. “I’m not convinced by this,” says Nick. “It’s either undercooked or not right with the salt caramel mousse and mango puree.” I taste it and agree although we all conclude that we are now in hypercritical mode because Joery is that good.
And that’s the thing. Joery Castel just gets better and better. It may not be everyone’s preference to eat this finely but once in a while it is good to see what the top end of the sector is doing.
Picpoul white wine £22
Daumas Languedoc red £16.50
Seven course tasting menu x 2 £120
Crab starter £9.50
Goose breast £19.50
1a Seacliff Road, Bangor, Co Down BT20 5HA.
Tel: 028 9146 9253.