Bull & Ram: New Northern Ireland restaurant locks horns with the finest
Local food, a grade I listed building and a little love - just some of the ingredients which have helped a fledgling restaurant take the Northern Ireland restaurant scene by the horns.
The Bull & Ram opened just five short months ago, but since then it has generated quite a buzz. It's earned the plaudits and become a must vist on the Northern Ireland food scene.
Based in a beautiful Grade 1 listed Edwardian butcher's shop in Ballynahinch, which has been lovingly restored, the restaurant prides itself on a "no frills" approach to food and its surroundings.
Sitting just off a roundabout in the middle of the Co Down town, an impressive candy-stripped awning gives the restaurant a presence.
Inside, art deco floor tiles, herringbone oak ceiling and one impressive metal frame, which in a previous life and in less stringent times, would have hung the carcass of Mr Coulter's finest meats, dominate.
And of course the bull and the ram overlook the feasting diners.
Past a bar in the middle - in what was once probably a back room - is a more modern, soft furnished setting, one which is more in tune with the modern-day restaurant and offers a glimpse of the magic in action in the kitchen from head chef Kelan McMichael and his team.
While the setting is something else, it's the menu that the restaurant bills as its star attraction.
Here two names dominate - Walter Ewing and Peter Hannan. The freshest fish and the finest cuts.
Manager Daryl Shields explains: "We want the best local produce, the best fresh ingredients.
"Everything is fresh, we want people to enjoy the surroundings but to remember their food."
The seafood chowder is not to be missed while a cut of Hannan's Steak (dry-aged in a Himalayan salt chamber) may look so very lonely alongside a small handful of chips and the side of sauce, in reality its the star and the rest are but a garnish you could almost do without.
"The guys in the kitchen," continues Daryl, "they are not just running through the motions and getting plates out, they are putting in that little bit of extra love and creating memorable dishes."
While the option to buy cuts of meat and a pound or two of sausage as part of the weekly shop is not on offer any more in the new old butcher's, many of the locals still treat it as a gathering place, a bit of a chinwag with the folk around the town with the added bonus of your tea cooked.
"It's a bustling little place, you really are not that far from too many places," Daryl adds.
"With the original tiles, the awning, the cast iron frame, we wanted to tap into the heritage of where we are. It's good quality dining but with a casual feel."
Kelen McMichael, head chef, and owner added: “We’ve had incredible support from family, friends our staff and local people since we opened our doors in June of this year and coupled with the amazing reviews, and awards we’ve won in such a short time it’s just been amazing.
"The focus now is to continue to find the very best local ingredients and cook imaginative ‘no frills’ food for our customers.”
And while all the hallmarks of a historic butcher's setting are in place, one couldn't but help miss sawdust scattered across the floor.