Restaurant review: We take a bite from The Boat House1 Seacliffe Road, Bangor. Tel: 028 9146 9253
Bangor's Boat House has been a destination restaurant ever since chef Joery Castell took it on from Stephen Jeffers 10 years ago or more. A fine diner with some class it grew a reputation for interesting, sometimes grandiose dishes and soon became a fixture on the list of award-winning restaurants in the north.
I remember in the earlier moments of the new ownership, climbing up the stone steps to the front door, following closely behind a woman who was carrying a big blue plastic crate inside which a number of large lobsters flipped about in a panic as if they knew their fate. Joery's brother Jasper greeted us at the top of the steps and quickly explained that the lobster would shortly appear on the menu with some melted butter and parsley. Rest in peace.
I was hooked. Robbie Millar of Shanks had always maintained that you should only eat lobster if you know for a fact that it's been in the sea up to an hour earlier and no more. Here was the opportunity. And Joery did not spoil the fun. It's too easy to screw up crustaceans in the pan but he had steamed or boiled it (I can't remember that bit) perfectly.
But those days are gone. Joery has left the building. He is no longer about. His long, blond flowing locks and charming Dutch accent have departed Bangor. He, in popular Belfast parlance, has went.
The Boat House is now in the hands of chef Tim Brunton. Nothing should daunt this man as he has plenty of form with an enviable CV. Most recently he has been working across the road in Salty Dog, the owners of which now operate the Boat House.
I wonder though if Chef Tim has been spooked by the Castell legacy because lunch there last week while very good, was an unexpected journey into the finest of fine dining, the kind of experience I've only really had at night, under the hushed, candle-lit darkness and linen covered tables of very expensive and formal restaurants in London or Paris.
I felt that having a lunch which belonged to a posh Saturday night in a European capital was the culinary equivalent of going to the office dressed for a wedding.
I had brought Belfast's greatest quiz master Chris Hughes for a special lunch but had not expected anything so fancy. Not even in Castell's day would you have seen amuse-bouches at lunchtime (Jerusalem artichoke ice cream), or seven-course tasting menus with wine pairings.
Or may be it's just me and this is how they live in Bangor: large.
Among the starters are the "Bangor Bay Smoked Lobster Broth - Marisco caught lobster with compressed and sous-vide vine tomato and herb oil"; "Compressed Chicken Thigh with Iona Farmwild garlic essence, buttered white asparagus, wild mushrooms and asparagus veloute"; or how about the "Craigantlet Hills Pheasant, Hazelnut and Apricot Terrine with pheasant mousse, pickled blackberries, buttered sprouts and candied hazelnuts"?
Don't get me wrong, it is fabulous stuff and Mr Brunton has the talent to carry it off with ease and panache. But for me it's too big and blousy at lunchtime.
The lobster broth, however, turns out to be a much more down-to-earth affair and is not as complicated or overwrought as feared. It is a light bisque with plenty of lobster flavour. I think the tomato is unnecessary and sits uncomfortably with its fresh acidity in a sea of velvety smooth and creamy crustacean broth.
Chris's scallops, sorry, "Portavogie Scallops with Bangor Bay crab risotto, avocado ice cream and chive bubbles" are spot on, generous in volume and the risotto with crab is not short on the key ingredient.
Today's special is "Pan Seared Portavogie John Dory and Scallops with Bangor Bay crab tortellini, Scrabo Farm brassicas and Iona Farm wild garlic essence." It's a dish of gothic proportions and charms, beautifully complicated, every morsel and mouthful cooked au point.
Chris has the appetite and capacity for "Peter Hannan's 28 Day Salt-Aged Fillet with sweet cured rib, beef cheek croquette, buttered Romanesco and puree, cauliflower cheese and puree and sauce Bordelaise". Good God, that would wipe me out and this is lunchtime! But Chris nods particularly approvingly over the croquette.
And we're not finished. "Armagh Apple Pie with a green apple parfait and apple compote, apple puree, crème anglaise and cinnamon puff pastry" is a dream dessert with all the textures and flavours crashing together happily.
This is livin'. It's very special and the sense of occasion is definitely strong but at this time of the day I wonder if people rather eat more simply and get back to work within an hour.
Tim Brunton is hugely capable and if you are looking for the ultimate long and eventful (and reasonably priced) lunch then you should quickly book the Boat House and take the afternoon off.
3-course lunch x 2..............................£56
Sparkling water 75cl x 2......................£9
Glass Stickleback Shiraz................£7.50