Ship shape: We review Holywood's new bistro Anchorage
It may be short on sea views, but the latest addition to Holywood's roster of restaurants is the toast of the coast.
Holywood, on north Down's Gold Coast, is a charming dormitory town, which suffers from the same kind of identity crisis as Carrickfergus. Both are historic and coastal and both are cut off from the sea by a dual carriageway.
There is nowhere in Holywood from which to enjoy the view other than the Dirty Duck and, technically, that's in Kinnegar, on the sea side of the dual carriageway.
Holywood has adapted to the absence of a meaningful seafront by shifting its centre of gravity inland and the town busies itself happily along its High Street. This is where the action is.
The Maypole Bar, Fontana and the Coffee Yard are all here. It's an active commercial centre and some of the earlier quality restaurants are still here, including Bistro Iona and the Bay Tree. And a succession of restaurants in Sullivan Place, just off the High Street, has now been followed by the arrival of Anchorage.
Formerly known as Enigma, or for those of you with longer memories, Sullivan's, the recently opened Anchorage is in the hands of the same people behind Belfast's excellent Fourth Wall.
It has struck a chord with the locals thanks to its no-nonsense menu and hospitable staff. The big attraction here is the price to quality ratio.
A weekday lunch menu, which gives you three courses for under £14, is worth a look. Especially when there's cock-a-leeky broth on the list. This is a fine soup for those who are adjusting to the new winter clocks. It's full of chicken bits, leeks and barley and the flavours are deep, salty and reassuringly homey.
The wheaten bread which comes with it features a slab of dulse butter, which may sound gimmicky, but it works well. Adding salt to butter is nothing new, but adding the iron tang of seaweed is a real enhancement, especially when the bread is verging on drying out.
Alternative starters in this menu are pickled herring with sundried tomatoes and chargrilled bread, or hoi sin duck spring rolls with sweet dipping sauce and baby leaf salad.
If you're still up for more after that manly big bowl of soup you could go for beer-battered scampi with triple-cooked chips, or breaded chicken goujons with sweet chilli potatoes and garlic mayo dip.
Or you could go, as two of us did, for the linguine of mussels, prawns, chorizo, sundried tomatoes and basil (vegetarian option available). This was an enormous, generous dish, where the bits and pieces out-gunned the pasta. Loads of prawns and mussels, succulent, firm and sweet vied with little chunks of chorizo and occasional bursts of aromatic sweetness exploded in the mouth as fresh basil came under the bite. It was a great lunchtime dish, although half the size would have done (and I'm not a light eater).
There's a great choice of menus and, unusually, this choice is not daunting. Well set-out and simple enough even for me to understand at the first go, there are a couple of menus for lunch, including something more celebratory, boozy and very Holywood wives: the "Two for £45", which includes three courses and a bottle of house wine.
And Anchorage is not scrimping on these offers. Choice of starters includes Strangford mussels, goats cheese salad, that lovely cock-a-leeky and pickled herrings and among the mains you'll find pan-seared chicken breast with roast garlic mash, wilted baby spinach and roast pearl onion jus, a 10oz sirloin with triple-cooked chips, grilled tomato, mushroom and brandy and peppercorn sauce (spot the golfer) and two other choices.
Desserts sound irresistible, even though I haven't tried them - this means I have to go back: posset, creme brulee, chocolate pot, or selection of ice creams and sorbets with walnut crumble.
The service is very good. One server looking after a relatively busy Friday lunchtime coped admirably. The sense of quality, care and hospitality in Anchorage is exemplary.
The interior is much as it was in the days of Enigma, although more maritime colours remind you that while you cannot see the sea, it's only a hundred yards away.
Two-course lunch x 2£21.90
Glass house wine x 2£4.00
- Anchorage, 2 Sullivan Place, Holywood, BT18 9JF. Tel: 028 9543 6170.