Restaurant review: Sleepy Hollow, Newtownabbey
15 Kiln Road. Tel: 028 9083 8672
This Newtownabbey restaurant and farm shop is a triumph, serving incredibly impressive dishes that boast quality, precision and volume.
It's been there for years, yet Sleepy Hollow has slipped beneath the radar of these pages. Until now. A recent relaunch of the rural restaurant's farm shop provided the pretext last week for a dash to the country (by car) while everyone else was running the Belfast Marathon.
And what a discovery we made. Not only is the place charming to look at, the dining room is a bare-stone walled country enclosure softened with good lighting and some nice design touches taken straight from a Breton graphic designer's rural retreat; it's also captivatingly comfortable.
The food is a marvel too. In fact, the restaurant is that good, we spent a bit of time in the farm shop afterwards buying some of the bits and pieces we had just eaten.
Like the chicken, ham hock and leek terrine. This miracle of cohesion is unsurpassed by any other in recent memory. The cool, moist, rich and earthy textures and flavours are bursting with all the chicken essence you find at the bottom of the roasting pan. Mixed with the salty ham hock and the sweet tanginess of the twin leeks running through the terrine like bright green barrels of a toy shot gun, it's a sensation.
To enhance it are components from piccalilli dotted around the plate and providing eye-wateringly vinegar crunch. As if that isn't enough, there is also a smooth celeriac remoulade reminiscent of French charcuteries. Served up with slices of dark crumbling wheaten bread and Abernethy, the butter which graces the tables of Haut Londres, the moment constitutes one of the greatest culinary pleasures to be had in the north.
And after such an explosive start it's hard to see how the impossibly high standards could be maintained. Yet they are. Salt and pepper crevettes in crispy cornflower batter, shrimp "scrumps" (small scampi prawns) and their accompanying citrus aioli are another top notch starter served with as much precision as abundance. Same goes for two large nuggets of duck rillette encased in crispy rosti potato. The volume is as impressive as the detail.
The tone has been set and the mains keep up. Rib of beef bourguignon is generous and after cooking for 24 hours, flakes from the bone, dark and tender. Joined on the plate by smoked bacon mash, carrot puree, pickled mushroom and braised shallot, it's just the job for this chilly early spring day.
The adviser's fish and chips immediately makes it to the top three in her league table of "life's best ever". The cod is pearly white and glossy and flakes off like chips in a croupier's hands. The tiny allumette fries are skin-on and full of potato flavour and for added craic the dish comes with a small glass of beer, the same used in the beer batter.
The burger, as big as a spare wheel, is also full of flavour and beefiness. In short, everything that shows up on the table is vast in quantity and yet the quality is consistently super fine.
It's a rare occurrence to find somewhere which exceeds the promise it makes.
Sleepy Hollow is a cosy country retreat and nothing about it happens by accident.
The staff are impeccably informed, discreet and welcoming. For all the slickness of the operation there is an underlying sense of true Ulster hospitality. They're glad to see you and want to impress. "Did you get enough?" is asked with the absolute certainty that folk are going straight home to change into something three sizes larger. But it's not the volume that impresses most. It's the way chef Paul Dalrymple cooks.
And do not go past the farm shop. This is a tiny two-roomed affair but it is up there among the quality big boys like Cloughbane, Linen Green and Hillstown.
Lunch 2-course x 3 @ £14.50 £43.50
Bottle Albarino £25.95
Espresso x 3 £5.40