Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Meet & Thyme
16 Lisburn Street, Hillsborough. Tel: 028 9268 8850
It's that time of the year when the advisor likes to witness the gentle arrival of autumn, watching the first golden leaves flutter to the ground, feel that early nip in the air and to see the swallows head south, from the comfort of a warm restaurant.
And where better than the new Meet & Thyme in Hillsborough whose floor to ceiling window at the back of the dining room offers a pleasant sight line across rooftops to mature beech and chestnut trees beyond.
If it's chintz and tidy little houses you're after, Hillsborough is the village that never disappoints. You may not like the tweeness and you might wonder as to where the housing estates are, but the town does have an upmarket rural charm which on days like these is hard to resist.
Always cautious about restaurants with great views (some tend to major on the vista to distract you from the food), I'm glad I only discovered this feature when we arrived on a Sunday evening. The long dining room which lies behind the super-pretty frontage on Lisburn Street is bright and functional. There's enough bare stone wall to provide rustic atmosphere and there are no draughts.
Add to this the swift and expert hands of legendary manager Peter Gilroy and the cooking talents of Gerard Magill and the combination looks set to win. All they need to do is kill the Neil Sedaka or Paul Anka soundtracks being pumped through the sound system and this could be a very good spot indeed.
At the time of going to press, Meet & Thyme has no alcohol licence. This news will be greeted by many of you with joy but make sure to check when booking.
The menu is striking for its originality. Most restaurants in the north, even the good ones, tend to go conventional on a Sunday with a choice of roast dinners. Not here. The full a la carte offer includes scallops with crispy chicken skin, chicken parfait with foie gras, beef carpaccio with wasabi sorbet, aged parmesan and dressed leaves and chargrilled cauliflower gratin with parmesan and curry salted potato crisps. There are, among others, veggie offers too.
The scallops are textbook and for once without either of the mandatory Clonakilty black pudding or the smoked bacon. The crispy chicken skin makes an interesting partner to the soft warm scallops and the pea and squash creams beneath add texture and detail.
The advisor's carpaccio is a finely sliced and very rare roast beef with visible charring rather than just wafer-thin, raw meat as expected. Its deep and subtle flavours are remarkable and the accompanying wasabi and leaves make it memorable.
As Sedaka or Anka (I could never tell the difference) groan on we settle into some lamb chops and belly which are sweet and tender and backed up by charred shallot, pommes anna, black olive and salsa verde. This is another triumph with everything working remarkably well together. The pommes anna, thin sliced and baked are crispy and soft, savoury and velvety, a hand to hold as winter approaches.
The advisor's monkfish has been spiced up with harissa and presents as a golden, curried wonder alongside charred cauliflower and, scallops and mussels. Fish of the day is brill which is accompanied by buttery broad beans and mussels and teen has some roast chicken with ham and cheese croquette and broccoli. The broccoli replaces the advertised kale but no harm done there. She approves.
The meals are generous and no one is going home hungry. The desserts are not quite a match to the rest of the meal (the salted caramel cheesecake with hazelnut brittle and peanut ice cream turns out to be bland and with popcorn. The white chocolate parfait fares better with accompanying cherries but no sign of the pistachios the menu claims to be part of the deal.
These are very minor issues although some will accept these unannounced swaps with less tolerance. The restaurant is new and sometimes the communications between kitchen and front of house can be less than perfect.
The food and service in Meet & Thyme are pretty much spot-on. Some of the dishes are outstanding. Once the details are ironed out and the dish actually matches the menu, it will be hard for anywhere else in Hillsborough to claim to be better. Although most might be a good bit less expensive.
Liver parfait x 2 £16.00
Fish of the day £22.50
Spiced monkfish £17.00
Lamb chop £18.00
White chocolate parfait £6.00
Diet Coke £2.65
Sparklng water £3.65