Garfunkel's may have the same name as a restaurant chain and a singer, but they have carved out their own worthy reputation
The problem with a name like Garfunkel's is the reputation of a restaurant chain of the same name. I remember seeing a Garfunkel's outside Victoria Station in London in the early Eighties, thinking how cool for one half of the American pop combo (of which the other partner was Simon) to use his name to brand a chain of restaurants. It seemed to suit the club sandwich, simple steaks and no-fuss, inexpensive menu. In fact, there was no connection between the singer and the chain.
Nor does the Garfunkel's in Ballyholme have any connection. It is a family-run, independent operation, located in a sleepy suburban street in the North Down annex to Bangor. You need to keep your eyes peeled if it's your first time looking for it as it really is very discreet.
The split-level interior is a tribute to the designers who have converted the terraced townhouse into a modern restaurant with cool tones, good lighting and comfortable furniture. It's a slick operation too with canny floor staff who have just enough warmth and efficiency to generate comfort and confidence.
It seems never to close and, like its British namesake, serves breakfast, lunch (including club sandwiches) and dinner. A firm fixture of its own neighbourhood, Garfunkel's attracts locals and visitors with good map reading skills alike, and the menu reflects the everyman approach. The breakfast menu features French toast and bacon, cinnamon pancakes, veggie fry, eggs Benedict and bagels. There is no sign of the word Ulster; instead there is something called the Big One composed of two pork sausages, two slices back bacon, half a tomato, two slices of soda bread, two more of potato bread, a fried egg and beans. Sounds close enough to qualify as an Ulster Fry.
At lunchtime, there is lasagne, fish and chips, that Big One again, steak pitta, BBQ chicken melt, open sandwiches, fish pie and loads more of varying lightness and substance, depending on your appetite and capacity.
Five of us went for dinner a night or two before heading off on holidays. We were bright-eyed and happy but the holiday mood brings with it high expectations too. The garlic prawn starter (with thyme and paprika butter, served with salad and wheaten bread) was sound. You want buttery mess and a bit of spice and the prawns to be soft, not chewy or rubbery. All present and correct. The four women, led by the adviser, ordered one each, while I had the baby ribs. Never keen on BBQ sauces, or ribs for that matter, I tested myself to see if my prejudice against certain dishes could be cancelled. It was. The ribs were properly slow-cooked, the sauce not too sweet and the bowl plentiful.
Burgers featured heavily on the evening menu: the homemade beef chilli burger comes with salad and coleslaw and is actually an unmolested burger, covered in a kind of chilli con carne, a bit like New York chilli dogs where the Frankfurter is similarly flavoured. There are also a cheeseburger, a Hawaiian (yes, with pineapple and Marie Rose sauce), cheese and bacon burger, beef and bird burger (chicken) and honey and mustard Oakwood cheese burger.
The menu is very long but it feels right; there's nothing there that sounds too ambitious and it's all pop food. A bit like the other Garfunkel's.
But there are moments of surprise. The curried monkfish comes with prawns and pak choi and some rice. It's got all the right attributes: sweet, sour, savoury and spice. The chunky monkfish pieces can take any amount of abuse but this is a robust and happy dish for people who like to eat by large mouthfuls.
The roast salmon is a step towards poshness, coming with asparagus and pesto mash and lemon and chive veloute. Don't be put off by the frightening discolouring of the mash caused by the pesto – it works beautifully and when you know how salmon should look and feel, a little additional excitement is welcome. This was particularly good because of the variety of flavours and textures. I hope they're able to replace the asparagus with leeks soon as the seasons change. The tang of the leek would work even better.
No complaints about the Cajun beef and chicken sizzler. Anything which comes to the table sizzling ought to be left well alone for a good few minutes to let the meat relax. Allowing for this, the "sizzler" was awarded a teen gold star.
Staff in Garfunkel's are among the best you'll find anywhere. They have a knack for being approachable and engaging, offering friendly advice and guidance but never once turning up unwanted.
They have a decent wine list but if you want to bring your own, corkage is only £3.
If you're wondering about a cosy table a deux or a family dinner, you should add Garfunkel's to your list of must-tries.
Chilli beef nachos £4.50
Garlic prawns x 4 £19.80
Baby ribs £4.95
Monkfish curry £12.50
Chicken burger £7.95
Roast salmon £13.95
Crumble x 2 £8.50
Bottle beer £2.80
Club lemon £1.70