Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Joris learns new tricks at college

Northern Regional College, Trostan Avenue, Ballymena, tel: 028 2563 6221

Celebrity chef Paula McIntyre and her catering students produce meals to whet the appetite.

Much loved and admired, celebrity cook Paula McIntyre is far too young to be a Mary Berry. She is, however, our national treasure. With her youth and good looks, Paula is hot property in Northern Ireland; she has her own slot on John Toal's weekly Saturday Magazine programme on Radio Ulster, is a frequent contributor to BBC Radio 4 food shows and regularly makes star appearances at food festivals around the country.

What fewer people know is that her bread and butter job is teaching the next generation of chefs at Northern Regional College.

Anyone under her tutelage is blessed with not just her expertise, communications skills and teaching ability, but also by her insistence that her students be exposed to real restaurant conditions during their studies.

Most good colleges offer some kind of real-life experience for their students, but Paula and her colleagues from the media studies faculty at NRC took it a step further recently by arranging a live broadcast and recording of a dinner being cooked and served to a paying audience in Portstewart Golf Club.

Think about it. Five courses, 80 paying diners, roving cameras, live feeds to a wide screen in the main dining room from the kitchen itself and a continuity presenter stitching it all together in the wonderful form of local woman Sarah Travers. You'd think two icons of the north, Paula and Sarah would guarantee success and you'd be right - but only to a point.

What really made the evening work was the cohort of students from the NRC's tourism school, who exercised their hospitality skills to settle everyone in, the media students under the guidance of head of department Stephen Price and, of course, the catering students doing as they were instructed by Paula. Result? A seriously memorable evening of excellent, locally sourced food and a rare glimpse into the magical mystery world of TV.

The local theme was not a gimmick. The focus on terroir was distinctive and echoed the values brought to life by the recently completed 2016 Year of Food and Drink. In fact, the evening had the effect of allowing us a little more time to spend on exactly what this north coast area keeps in its larder.

Kicking off the evening was an ambitious starter of roasted Ballinteer quail breast with parsnip and hazelnut and a generous tortellini stuffed with quail confit. Well executed, full of gamey flavours and wintry roots, we all looked at each other to gauge our sense of pride in the young ones and the fact that they had produced something quite so professional. There's nothing worse than offering support to a friend's children by attending their concert, drama premiere or art exhibition, only to realise that it's terrible and that you're going to have to put on a convincing game face. This was not the case and any friends of parents in the room must have been very relieved. Another step into the adventure took us to a rowan berry cured salmon with north coast smoked dulse, compressed celeriac, beetroot and Broighter Gold dressing. This was a substantial yet light entree and the mild bitterness of the rowan berry played well with the salmon, sweet beetroot and smoked dulse.

Up there are a few breweries, including Glens of Antrim and Hillstown. This evening we were having a brisket of beef from Peter Osborne butchers, brined in Lacada Brewery's Giant's Organ ale. This came with an intensely flavoured and very manly Magilligan carrot, grilled cabbage which I could have eaten all night and a baked potato blessed with Corndale chorizo and Banagher Bold cheese. This was a dish of medieval proportions and a rare moment when quantity and the table-shaking thud factor are matched by quality and refinement.

The final punctuation marks came from a surprisingly successful dessert of Bushmills Whiskey chiboust, a kind of flavoured whipped egg whites and cream, bramley and heritage apples, honeycomb and crumble wafer. This sounds very cheffy indeed, yet it was a balanced play of textures and flavours closing the meal down like a merry little hallelujah.

If the evening was an NRC showcase aimed at recruiting new students, convincing funders of their continued wisdom or just for showing off, it succeeded in all three.

Incidentally, Paula McIntyre's students put on a dinner every month which the public can enjoy for a modest price, so look out for them. It's one way of going back to college in your later years.

The Bill

Dinner 5 courses: £25

Joris revisited: from Fontana to Rostrevor Inn

Fontana 61 High Street, Holywood. Tel: 028 9080 9908

After over 20 years, this discreet restaurant still feels fresh and oozes quality.

Taylor & Clay, Bullitt Hotel, 40a Church Lane, Belfast

Simple choice, this is the ideal venue for a lazy Saturday get-together.

Rostrevor Inn, 33 Bridge Street, Co Down

A restaurant whose food is in keeping with one of the province’s finest tourist destinations.

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