That old Danny Millar magic has struck again with the now hugely successful Poacher’s Pocket in Lisbane, the chef’s third venture after Balloo House and the Parson’s Nose in Hillsborough.
Through the gift of Twitter and Facebook I had followed the rise of the refurbished and rebranded Lisbarnet House (or Dick’s, as it was called locally) since it started life a few months ago and reviews and comments were almost unanimously favourable.
Because you should always allow a new restaurant to calm itself and find its feet — a bit like resting a steak for the same time as it took to cook — we went along with high expectations. Sure enough, the beautiful old Ulster farm pub had been sensitively reinvigorated, given a little bit of country chic cosmetic work and now presented itself, food shop and all, as the kind of place in which even Bangor people would feel comfortable.
What I had not prepared myself for, however, was the colossal quantities which were carried to the table without the assistance of a fork-lift truck.
While this is not exactly Adam Richman territory (Man versus Food), the unique feature of the Poacher’s Pocket is that the quality of the meat and fish, vegetables and sauces, is top end but is served in Texan proportions. Please take heed of this because when I mentioned to the server that I was beaten by the quantity, she told me that these volumes were expected in this part of Co Down. “Our local customers are farmers and they expect quality and volume, not one or the other,” she whispered.
But of course we did not know this when we ordered. So like slabbering fools we dived headfirst into starters of bone marrow and toasted soda bread, crab linguini, warm Portavogie prawns in garlic and more homemade breads with that lush, golden Abernethy butter and a tipper load of tapenade.
The marrow was served in the split bone, glistening and gelatinous, salty and rich. To play against the smooth fattiness was a fresh and sparkling tomato salsa with capers and herbs. The salsa’s liquor highlighted the tangy tomatoes’ flavour like a halo.
Warm Portavogie prawns served on chicory and watercress with a mildly spiced cocktail sauce, toasted wheaten crumble and soft boiled hen’s egg were plump and plentiful and again the flavours were all strong and satisfying.
Crab linguini can be a visual problem — ask any chef and they’ll tell you the complaints are invariably that the crab/pasta ratio is wrong, no matter how much crab meat they flake into it. It’s just the way it looks. And here the crab and linguini is is distinctly, er, crabby.
The mains of Sunday roast pork, rib-eye with sweet potato fries and a chicken Caesar salad were all flawless but knocked into the shade by a
Sunday special (The Poacher’s Pocket Butcher’s Board) of chargrilled rose veal fillet, braised short rib, flank-confit croquette, French fried onions and triple cooked chips. The peppercorn cream alongside provided continuity and the whole feast was unspeakably good. The veal fillet texture was perfect, tender but firm enough to gently resist the knife. The croquette, let’s be clear, was absent of any potato and consisted entirely of pulled flank of beef and the short rib was dark, flaking and adult-only seductive.
By this stage we knew we had lost all hope if we were to keep up with the farmers, yet the sweet tooth had yet to be addressed. A raspberry tart with crème anglaise did the job in the simplest and freshest way possible, without any glazing. A warm chocolate cake in an iron skillet, clearly ordered for a party of sixteen, was deposited and before we had time to suggest that the larger party was further down the room, the server laughed. It wasn’t quite a laugh of defiance but when the adviser realised it was for her, all of it, we had to weep and cry for more spoons. Beneath the crispy cake top lurked a dark, creamy swamp of melted peanut butter fudge. Like a life raft on a quayside sat a ball of caramel ice cream. Try it because I cannot describe it here. I’ve run out of space.
Poacher’s Pocket is a sensation but remember to bring a cool box for all the leftovers you’ll have to bring home.
Crab linguini £7.95
Bone marrow £6.50
Pork roast £14.95
Butcher’s Board £20.95
Sweet potato fries £3.50
Caesar salad £9.95
Chocolate cake £5.50
Raspberry tart £3.50
Coffee x 3 £5.25
Bottle Farmageddon £4
Glass rioja x 2 £9
Glass Sauvignon Blanc £3.95
Bottle sparkling water £3.35
Diet Coke x 2 £3.80