Restaurant review: Harbour and Company, Donaghadee
32 The Parade. Tel: 028 9188 4466.
Ulster towns are easy to knock. Unless you live in Hillsborough, chances are your town is a struggling, architecturally challenged, gloomy collection of streets in which half the shops closed down years ago and lie decaying behind sheets of plywood.
Donaghadee is like that. A charming town centre, graceful seafront and striking lighthouse at the end of the pier provide the seaside town with a set of attractive components which ought to position it as a highly desirable place to live and visit. Yet the centre remains grey and partly derelict.
It's not until you travel north along the coast and out of town that you see the grand houses and golf club, proof that there is some wealth in the area. It will take a social historian and economist to explain this.
Nonetheless, the town's vital signs show plenty of reason for optimism. Not least Denis Waterworth and his reputable Pier 36 restaurant on the seafront.
This place is famous for its creel-caught langoustines from nearby Strangford Lough, the biggest and tastiest langoustines imaginable. And now Denis has decided to invest more in his home town.
A couple of doors down, he has just opened another restaurant, Harbour and Company. A bar downstairs and restaurant on the first floor, Harbour & Co is an attractive, modern addition to the town's offer. The staff goes through a rigorous training process but, as Denis says, they have to be nice folk to start with.
The big draw for this new restaurant is the wood-burning grill. This vast iron apparatus, which looks like some medieval torture device lifted straight from the dungeons of Dragonstone, is the barbecue grillzilla of County Down. You will not see a bigger wood-burning grill anywhere. It's fired up by specially cured beech logs and the grill can be lowered and raised by means of a crank. From this instrument (made locally for £6,500) come most of the dishes on Harbour & Co's menu.
There is much emphasis on sharing platters, things to dip your flatbread in and things which come on large flat planks. There are small starters including salads featuring Young Buck blue cheese, popcorn chicken and salt and candied wallnuts and pecans. Grilled flatbreads are everywhere and convincing.
Sharing platters of seafood will have smoked salmon, dressed crab, tempura prawns, salt and chill squid and a roast garlic aioli. All of these were fresh, juicy, crispy, spicy and plentiful. Fish is a big thing here and you'll find sardines done just like they do on the beach in Portugal on that wood burning grill.
The wood-fired selection of steaks is exceptional. The server advised to go for the cheapest cut, the 10oz rump which he said had more flavour and texture than any fillet twice the price. He was right. The quality was outstanding and the rump was sizeable.
The accompanying bearnaise was as good as that in Deane's Meat Locker, voluptuous, deep and with just the merest hint of vinegar.
The meat prices are all better than reasonable: 12oz sirloin for £16, 10oz ribeye for £15 and 16oz T-bone for £18. This may be something to do with Waterworth's preference to hang his own sides of beef.
The desserts are not wood-fired, but they are as robust and hearty as everything else put on the table so far. An Italian trattoria-style refrigerated display case (perilously close to the grill) is creaking under the weight of cakes, cheesecakes, bannoffees and tiramisus.
There are huge round structures of chocolate mousse and small individual cups, glasses and ramekins of sweet things. The mousse, banoffee and cheesecake were like no other ever enjoyed in this country.
The slice of coffee cheesecake, solid, not too sweet and bursting with flavour, is just the thing to have on a drizzly afternoon at the seaside with a good flat white. The banoffee was a cliff face of oozing caramel and light banana cream on a crispy crunchy, gravelly bed of digestive crumbs. The mousse was an oozing mass of dark cocoa simutaneously light on the tongue and super strong in flavour.
Donaghadee is blessed to have the Waterworths. Restaurants and bars make a place, they are the mini-holiday destinations we all need to visit to preserve our mental health, to meet friends and to be part of humanity.
No matter how grey Donaghadee may look, you don't have to go far to find some colour.
Seafood platter £15.00
Cured meat platter £12.00
Wood-roasted sardines £10.00
Rump steak £13.00
Blackened chicken skewer £10.00
Wood-roasted Morrocan chicken £10.00
Desserts x 3 £15.00
Bottle prosecco £20.00