There has been some comment from our food critic friends south of the border regarding Bangor. You may be aware that I have claimed now for the last 18 months that Bangor is the new Kinsale.
Its seaside front and genteel avenues are dotted with excellent restaurants just like its twin in Co Cork. And this claim may be the cause of some of the less than friendly commentary.
A well-respected Dublin-based food critic (I will keep her name to myself for now) said a couple of weeks ago that there is no reason to visit Bangor. As a foodie she should have known better. The argument that Kinsale has now met its match in Bangor inevitably invites a strong rebuttal — after all, who wouldn’t want to give up their long-held crown without a fight?
But for anyone in the know to write off Coyle’s, Café Essence, Jeffers and the Boathouse is an act of provocation
These fab four restaurants have been extensively reviewed and found to be, by and large, excellent with a broad price range too. They are destination restaurants, the kind you’d go out of your way to visit. And now there’s a fifth, the Salty Dog. And very good it is too.
The Victorian hotel faces the sea where Belfast Harbour meets the Irish Sea. But the restaurant’s cosy wood-floor interior and chalk-on-blackboard specials says something altogether more informal.
This reassuringly laid-back vibe immediately sets people at ease and on this particular afternoon there are all sorts in — families, young furtive couples, grannies, and the mood is light and very seasidey, even if it is February.
Staff appear soon enough to take us to a table in the bay window, from which we can admire the view. We see Whitehead and the lighthouse on Black Head across the water. Orders are quickly taken and soon the five of us settle down to fishcakes, ham terrine and foie gras starters. They are all good. The fishcakes are made of smoked mackerel and come with searing horseradish, confit beetroot and apple salad. The rough crispy exterior and the soft, flakey middle mix with the horseradish and salad beautifully offering up a great clash of smooth, salty, spicy and tangy flavours.
The ham hock terrine with pickled pear and celeriac remoulade could be a bit of a tribute to Michael Deane, with whom chef Derek Creagh had for so long been associated. Again, the balance and variety of textures work like a finely tuned four-part choir. The brioche that accompanies the foie gras is so good as to almost eclipse the smooth and light pate. The server asks the adviser if she’d like more. Oh, the delight, yes please. But it never comes.
And this is the first sign of a stretched front of house. While the servers know what they’re doing, there is too much forgetting — the brioche that was offered but never delivered, the repeated request for a wine glass, the hint for salt & pepper ... This kind of thing isn’t a serious problem, but it has some impact on the identity of the place. It’s laid back, sure, but it’s also a Derek Creagh restaurant, which means you expect a certain standard.
Special of the day is the fish pie available as starter or main. One is just a little less vast than the other, served in robust pottery. They are magnificent. The potato crown creamy, the generous cuts of fish and milky liqueur within reinforced by a whole boiled egg — a hot, wet, joyous thing.
Two fish and chips, also specials of the day, are quality affairs with the right proportions of brittle batter to steamed white cod meat inside.
A children’s burger proves the increasingly recognised point that quality standards still matter below the age of 12. Juicy and cooked through, simply garnished and with appetising big bap, the burger would pass as health food, such was the lack of processed anything.
The desserts maintain the standard and the lemon-scented rice pudding and cherry parfait was memorable. It’s not everyone’s favourite, so all the more respect to The Salty Dog for putting it up there beside the Valrhona chocolate pot with coconut sorbet, caramel and lime, which lived up to its hedonistic promise.
The Salty Dog does all this for £21.50 for three courses or £17.50 for two (on a Sunday). I swore never to review a restaurant again on a Sunday but when it’s like this, I have to break promises and submit.
Foie gras x 2 £16
Fish cake £6.75
Fish pie £9.50
Fish pie starter £6.50
Fish Chips x 2 £21
Kids burger £5.95
Rice pudding £5.50
Ice cream £4.50
Espresso x 4 £8
Diet coke £1.90
Sparkling water large £4
Esmeralda wine x 2 £33.90