Eating out review: Hillstown Farm Shop and Restaurant
Hillstown Farm Shop and Restaurant 128 Glebe Road, Randalstown. Tel: 028 9447 8662
The current affairs commentator Newton Emerson used to run a brilliant satirical journal called the Portadown News, in which the back pages hilariously referred to Catholic and Protestant sports.
At the risk of exposing myself to abuse, I can tell you there are also Catholic and Protestant foods.
This occured to me about five years ago, when I attended the funeral of a Presbyterian friend in Listooder. After the solemn proceedings in the church, we were invited into the church hall for refreshments.
A small battalion of women of a certain age had created a spread hugely more impressive than that offered at the funeral of a cardinal I had attended some years earlier. (And this was no church elder's funeral, God forgive me.)
There was a queue just about orderly and disciplined enough to prevent a stampede to the trestle tables running the length of the hall, every square inch covered in homemade gold and stretching our resistance to breaking point.
A thousand pillow soft white triangular sandwiches with egg mayonnaise and scallion, ham salad, corned beef and mustard, roast beef and horseradish, cheddar and pickle, chicken supreme; the mushroom vol-au-vents and all the other beautifully, precisely handmade finger foods reflected on a parallel table by an array of tray bakes, buns and boiled cakes which you cannot buy anywhere, were proof that, while a Catholic funeral can do the music, costumes and pomp, they've much to learn by way of the catering.
I developed the notion further last week during the build-up to Burns' Night and went to a place between Randalstown and Ahoghill in the heart of west county Antrim and discovered a cafe/restaurant which sold all the described goodies of the same quality, but also did sinful things with haggis.
Hillstown Farm Shop is more than a shed selling pickles and cute baskets filled with jams. There is a proper Ulster Scots charcuterie, where all sorts of hams, sausages and proper haggises in sheep's stomach of various sizes are sold.
What's more, the menu in the cafe/restaurant is running an extended Burns' season of themed dishes, which are too good to miss.
There are dishes featuring haggis: haggis omelettes, chicken dinners with haggis mash, haggis, apple and goat's cheese salad for the calorie counters and they'll even do a haggis sausage cowboy supper.
My adviser today is Maebeth Fenton, the phenomenal Antrim girl who spent 20 years in New York promoting Northern Ireland to the Americans and who has now semi-retired in Broughshane with her Manhattan beau, John. Her haggis omelette must have involved half a dozen eggs and is the size of a small sofa. To make things even more challenging, it comes with potato salad, coleslaw, leaves and other sideshows.
She cuts it in two and hands me the half as I struggle with roast chicken fillet on a bed of haggis mash and a white wine sauce.
Both are exceptionally good. The omelette is light as a cloud and darkened only by clusters of haggis which provide intense savoury pleasures amidst the fluffy, airy egg.
The chicken is moist and succulent and has the flavours you pay big bucks for in uptown restaurants. That haggis mash is another bed of iniquity made all the more luscious with a wild mushroom and white wine sauce.
This food must surely constitute the ultimate in culinary hedonism. Yet because it's served in a dining room (which has as many nursery toys as it does furniture - loads of families with very young children and babies seem to love this place and there isn't a peep from any of them) by servers who are as charming as they are genuinely delighted to be working there, the whole experience is wholesome and virtuous.
Even the banoffee, which is fresh and rich, covering a crisp and crunchy base like a sumo on a gym mat, is outrageously enjoyable.
Clearly, Protestants know how to enjoy themselves without incurring any shame, or guilt. It's enough to prompt a conversion.
Roast chicken and haggis mash £8.25
Haggis omelette £6.25
Sparkling water x 2 £2.80
Coffees x 2 £3.60