Joris Minne: Clandeboye Lodge Hotel
The decor may be bland but the menu is enjoyable at the Clandeboye Lodge Hotel
The most attractive people in the world are not those who combine all the best attributes and assets of physical beauty, but rather those who bear the most middle-of-the-road, inoffensive and barely noticeable features.
Eyes neither too big nor small, nose neither pointy nor flat, lips neither plump nor thin, and so on.
Sunday newspapers periodically publish photo-fit pictures of a face composed of the features of a thousand people. Once these are distilled, it’s remarkable how ordinary the person, male or female looks. And this is what attracts us.
Apparently this also works in certain areas of the catering industry. If you take a look at the conference and meetings end of the sector, you’ll notice how hotels offering such services end up looking pretty much the same. There’s a uniform decor that hoteliers seem to have adopted on the basis that it offends no-one. Like car upholstery.
The Clandeboye Lodge is the current leader in this field but it’s so good at blandness that it has turned it into a noticeable if discreet feature. There’s a touch of the Alan Partridge at Clandeboye Lodge and if it wasn’t for the genuinely charming and helpful restaurant staff, you might mistake your visit for an accidental step onto the set of a satirical comedy show.
The squeaky clean place is first and foremost a functions venue. It caters for events ranging from weddings and funerals to conferences and seminars. It has won awards for the excellence of its services, and having attended a few weddings there I can vouch for the place. But how does it stand up on a miserable and empty Sunday evening for a family dinner?
Remarkably and ironically, rather well. Having first mistaken the main building, which is the conference centre for the restaurant and hotel, the four of us drove through the landscaped carpark in the cold darkness to the right place, which looks identical.
Clandeboye Lodge is a complex of modernish constructions that looks like the result of a merger of plans for a couple of Presbyterian neo-Gothic churches and the departure and arrivals lounges of a regional airport. Sounds odd but it’s attractive, particularly as it sits in a kind of parkland environment with mature trees.
When we finally found the restaurant, the workers were keen to please and jumped to their feet, sitting us by the lit fire in the lounge area near the bar and from where we could see into the high-ceilinged dining room.
Very kindly, the server agreed that we could have our dinner at this table as the restaurant was empty bar two diners.
A simple menu of half a dozen starters and a further half dozen mains showed precise understanding of the middle-of-the-road theme: goat’s cheese fritters, chicken liver parfait with brioche, deep-fried mushrooms, mushroom soup and homemade bread and so on. The main courses were a lesson in beige: cod in chive hollandaise; brisket with Yorkshire pudding; chicken breast with pepper sauce, lots of mash and carrots and parsnips. But that was fine because we hadn’t expected anything else. Horses for courses.
But there was room for surprise and delight after all. The Cajun-style mushrooms had a crunch and a kick with a dry, hot hit of cayenne pepper in the breadcrumbed shell. The mushrooms within retained their flavour and texture and provided decent entertainment, particularly with the little salad served with them.
The chicken liver parfait was light and airy and a good onion chutney and toasted brioche made the thing work as well as it possibly could. If this was standard function or wedding food, then you’d be more than happy with it.
The mains were similarly enjoyable although there were a couple of downfalls. Haddock instead of cod was proposed and accepted, but it was a good bit overcooked. The mash underneath tasted slightly off and the hollandaise was too vinegary and heavy. Yet it remained edible. Three of us had the fish — one child thought it was great, the other that it was dry.
Meanwhile, an attentive server was quick to bring additional hollandaise sauce to those who wanted it.
Chips were quality skinny fries but the best of the meal was the coarse carrot and parsnip mash, which had been beautifully seasoned and had big rooty flavours.
The lemon sponge cake served with vanilla ice cream was a more of a moist individual steamed pudding that lit up a winter’s evening with a bit of sunshine.
Sunday evenings can be tricky for last minute eating-out plans but if they all ended up like this we’d be content.
Sunday menu x 3 courses £39.90
Sunday menu x 2 courses £33.90
Extra toast £1.95
Extra sauce £1.95
Diet Coke x 2 £3.90
¼ bottle wine x 3 £13.35
Sparkling water 250ml £1.75
10 Estate Road, Bangor, Co Down
BT19 1UR Tel: 028 9185 2500.