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Restaurant review: We take a bite from Rostrevor Inn

33 Bridge Street, Rostrevor, Co Down. Tel: 028 4175 5555

By Joris Minne

On the south-facing shores of Carlingford Lough, tucked at the foot of Kilbroney forest and the Fairy Glen is the pretty town of Rostrevor. It and neighbouring Warrenpoint are now famous for their music and cultural festivals. Both also have a portfolio of good pubs. They are also distinctly different. Warrenpoint is kiss-me-quick and a bit Katie Price while Rostrevor is more tea, scones and Miss Marples.

They are profoundly attractive in their separate ways and offer very good reasons to visit them. One such reason regarding Rostrevor would now be the Rostrevor Inn. The town's old Crawford's bar went through some particularly nasty re-incarnations in recent years, some of which saw ancient features ripped out of the sober, plain but beautiful 19th century building. Converted into a sports bar with large TV screens, the place failed. Now it has been given a new lease of life by blow-in, writer and lover of Rostrevor, Seth Linder and his family. Having salvaged what he could and reinstated a bar, he then went about installing a new restaurant and also added seven bedrooms.

Now, the Rostrevor Inn hosts regular live music sessions, storytelling and other cultural activities which make it a hub of craic agus ceol. Positioned where it is within a short walk of some of the most ancient woodlands in Ireland and some of the most mystical hills and mountains, it will surely succeed as a tourism asset.

All the more so if the promise to bulk out the menu with more fish and food from nearby Kilkeel and the Mourne mountains is carried through. Chef Lochlain McGinn has his eye on moving away from the current offer. The Sunday menu showed no sign of any Carlingford oysters or mussels (these are famed and named in restaurants like the Wolsey in central London) or Mourne lamb for that matter. Rather there were things like chicken teriyaki, marinated halloumi burgers and chicken goujons.

Thankfully, Lochlain has been inculcated by the clever people at Sea-Source, the Kilkeel-based fish-to-renewable-energy group which has embarked on a campaign to let chefs know all about how local produce is usually much better and not necessarily more expensive than the cheap imported frozen stuff. And anyway, a restaurateur should always ask themselves: why would any visitor (from Belfast or Barcelona) want to order tiger prawns in a restaurant which is yards from the Irish Sea? I remember going to Portrush and seeing New Zealand green lipped mussels in a restaurant and furiously wondering what the hell had happened to our sense of pride. Grrrr.

The advisor was coaxed reluctantly away from the big smoke last Sunday and in the face of that disappointing menu, I thought it might take another six months before the next time. But how things were turned around. A plate of hake with a leek veloute and fine mash was possibly the best she had enjoyed since something not dissimilar but distinctly smaller in Belfast's Muddler's Club. The generous big filet was moist and slippery, each chunk of white meat falling away from its neighbour showing perfect timing in the kitchen. The veloute was voluptuous and velvety, full of flavour and wintry warmth. Soaking into the mash, this was the ultimate plate of comfort.

The Barbary duck magret did not disappoint either. On a bed of roughly mashed, tomato and herb flavoured potatoes, it had a fine crisp to the skin and the meat was tender and juiced up with plenty of taste.

Burger featuring bacon and cheese passed the teen test with no questions asked.

Rostrevor Inn is a welcome asset for the town. Raymond McArdle is the master chef in the area and his influence has been felt in many ventures here and in Warrenpoint (and Belfast, Ballygawley and Nuremore). It's good to see a new young chef being confident and his owner Seth Linder committing to creating a destination restaurant.

It has that happy mood which only comes from a sense of confidence which is justifiably strong

The bill

Hake ...............................................£15.95

Duck ...............................................£13.95

Burger ..............................................£9.95

Bottle Picpoul ...............................£19.50

Chocolate fondant .........................£5.95

Sticky toffee pudding ...................£5.95

Apple crumble ................................£5.95

Coke x 2 ...........................................£2.80

Coffees x 2 ...........................................£4

Total: ...................................................£84

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