Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

When the starter is the climax of the whole dining out experience

Published 04/04/2008

A combination of brilliant food, excellent staff and pleasant atmosphere in the restaurant formerly known as Shanks result in a wonderfully satisfying experience

Set menu x 2: £39.90

Gin and tonic x 2 £12

Campillo Crainza Rioja £25

Coffee x 2 £5

Total: £81.90


Blackwood Golf Club, 150 Crawfordsburn Road, Bangor

Tel: 9185 3394

You know that scene in When Harry Met Sally? (If you've seen the film, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, use your imagination. Hint: Meg Ryan's character, Sally, is faking what can only be politely described as a Herbal Essences moment).

Well, I stepped into Sally's shoes when I embarked on my starter at Thyme. " How is it?" asked my friend, a little disconcerted by my sudden silence. " Nnnngggg ..... eeeeuuuuuu....... aaahhhhhhh .......... gggghhh," I managed to gurgle in low, gutteral tones, like some sort of feral animal in heat. "It's .... aaaaahhhhh ..... mayyyyyy ........ zeeeeeen". My muscles went limp, I felt giddy — oh my God, were my eyes rolling in my head?

So I exaggerate, but it was seriously a while before I could talk. When I did it was to say: "Claire, it's bloody organic [or something like that]!"

Once she got over the giggles, Claire had to agree. There wasn't a lot on my plate — one modestly sized pasta parcel stuffed with minced seafood, swimming in bisque — and I wasn't too keen on giving any away, but I cut her a corner. Her pupils dilated. "I see what you mean," she drawled huskily with a wild look in her eye. "The pasta's paper thin and so light; the sauce has depth, but isn't rich. It's melt-in-the-mouth tender. Like a cross between ravioli and steamed Chinese dumplings." Quite.

Her own butternut squash soup also hit the spot (if not quite the G spot ...) Like my starter, it was just enough to arouse the taste-buds, but not dent the appetite. The waiter then talked us through the mains, including a vegetarian choice not on the menu. Claire was really getting in touch with her inner animal, and ordered her rib of beef just-pink, while I plumped for the veggie platter of sauteed potatoes, sundried cherry tomatoes, green beans, leaves and chilli oil.

Claire's beef arrived succulent and served with a delicate horseradish cream, some champ, herbed roast potatoes, and enough crisp veg (green beans, peas and carrots) to feed a family of four.

My main fell a hair short of expectations — a few exotic mushrooms, or even some shavings of Parmesan would have finished it off nicely, and provided some protein — but it was still very enjoyable, particularly the way the warm oil, flecked with chopped chilli and herbs, bound everything together and wilted the salad leaves.

The waiter suggested a break between mains and dessert — no doubt he's used to dealing with excitable women — which allows me to mention drinks. We started off with a gin and tonic each, and they were divine. Don't ask me what the gin was, but it certainly wasn't Gordon's.

In contrast to the bijou food menu — just four choices for each course — the wine list was epic, with seemingly all major regions and varieties namechecked. It wasn't cheap, though — the lowest price-tag I could see was £22.

For pudding, Claire ordered the poached fruit salad — which turned out to be on a different level entirely from what we know as 'fruit salad'. Her small pieces of tropical fruit were delicately cooked so they no longer resembled something you should eat five times a day but something magical, exotic, transformed. This was cooking as an artform.

My steamed ginger pudding was also a triumph of alchemy. I often find steamed puddings call to mind a dishcloth, but this was light, flavoursome, note-perfect in texture. A dab of chantilly cream provided just enough moisture.

The waiter — who couldn't have been more attentive and pleasant — kept replenishing our (very good) post-prandial coffees and seemed eager we enjoy every second of our visit. Really, he was a masterclass in how to make customers feel welcome, pampered and valued.

And it wasn't anywhere near as expensive as you might expect. This restaurant was formerly the Michelin-starred Shanks, so I was prepared to max out the credit card. But the Sunday night set menu was a very affordable £19.95 for three courses.

It's not often I can't find serious fault with something, but I honestly thought Thyme was exemplary on all fronts. The dining room was lovely (some nice art on the walls), the food was only amazing, and the service 110%.

The last word? Lie back and think of England ...

Belfast Telegraph

Your Comments

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting?

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph