Woof around the edges: We hit The Salty Dog in Bangor
An old Bangor favourite is still ship shape on the food front, but we’re disappointed to report that the Dog’s service is all at sea
Four years ago, Bangor was the place Belfast people went to if they wanted a change from the restaurants on their own doorstep. Bangor had Jeffers (sadly no longer with us), Cafe Essence, The Boat House, Coyle's and a few others, offering good food and service in pleasant, sea-sidey dining rooms.
The Salty Dog on the seafront had a strong appeal and the quality of its food was high. Service was a bit ramshackle, but overall the experience was pretty good. And, anyway, you could see the sea from most parts of the restaurant.
Four years on and the Salty Dog has a new head chef, Tim Burton, and some new staff, including general manager Richard Stitt of Il Pirata, Barking Dog and Coppi and Aimee Carter, formerly of Browns in Town in the heart of Derry City.
The food is still good and the service is as ramshackle as ever and the whole place stumbles and staggers along in an informal, jolly old way.
It's one of those places where the staff are charming and as attentive as they can be, but not all of them are perhaps as trained in the finer arts of service as they might be.
I'm not talking about silver service: it's just the lack of attention to the job in hand. Too much time is spent waiting for things, service is not fast and at times irritatingly slow. There seems to be a lot of running around in the spread-out dining rooms, but little progress.
Having said that, the food served to four of us on a Sunday evening ranged from acceptable to very good. A pea and mint soup was carefully put together, but too oddly flavoured to be considered successful.
The pea flavours of grass and hay coupled to the minty sweetness just didn't hack it as a couple. The flavours jarred a bit. Also, it was so thick and hot that it missed that summer evening mood by a mile.
The fishcakes and the celeriac remoulade, on the other hand, were exceptionally good. The Salty Dog remoulade is a rare find, crunchy, peppery and in just the right proportions.
The sous-vide duck egg which crowned the fishcake was delicious, its yoke softened and thickened, but it looked a bit of a dog's dinner.
The thing with sous-vide (it's French for vacuum-packed) and water baths is that things retain their flavour and despite being cooked, still look quite raw. That's why they need to be finished off on a
grill, or in a pan. Here the egg white remained transparent and frankly mucus-like (sorree!). The visuals need adjusting here to make this work.
Burgers are very good quality, having been made from freshly ground beef and served American-style in a stack including onion rings or caramelised onions and bacon within a good brioche bun.
The blackboard of specials tells you the kitchen is not complacent. In addition to the soup and fishcake are pork terrine with gin and elderflower apple salsa and cucumber and basil gel, pan-seared stone bass with garlic herb potatoes and buttered asparagus and a sous-vide duck breast, confit leg pie, pomme puree, roast shallot and braised baby leek and blood orange gel.
The Sunday menu nods towards the conventional roast carvery offering 12-hour roasted Kettyle beef with buttered green beans, roast and mash potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and red wine gravy, Cullybackey pork, Slane Valley lamb shank, or cod.
There is a very slight mismatch between the offer, the experience and the price. It's too slapdash and there is a palpable undercurrent of panic, too much shouting from within the kitchen and lack of awareness that sounds travel out into the dining room. If the prices were 20 per cent cheaper this mood would be right.
I would not rush back when the option is a trip down the road to the Jamaica Inn, which has a tighter operation, or across the road to The Boat House, which can be within a similar price range.
Fishcake (x 3) £22.50
Fish and chips £12.00
Burger (x 2) £24.00
Peas side order £3.95
Gls vinho verde £5.00
Gls pinot noir £6.00
Diet coke (x 2) £4.00
Lg sparkling water £4.00
Gls prosecco (x 2) £9.50