A master stroke: We review The Eagle Bar and Grill
The impressive restaurant at Galgorm Castle Golf Club is right at the top of its game
The relationship between food and golf in Northern Ireland is an odd one. For some of us, a Sunday visit to the golf club for lunch, tea or dinner is a big treat. You get to eat in a place which usually has big windows, a good view and decent enough food.
The most famous fusion of two of the most popular past-times we ever saw was that of Shanks, the Michelin-starred restaurant in Blackwood Golf Club near Clandeboye.
Robbie Millar installed his fabulous restaurant in the modernist clubhouse back in the early Noughties and attracted diners from all over Ireland and the UK. But few if any of the golfers went near it, opting instead for the breadcrumbed offer of the alternative diner on the site.
But since then chefs like Stephen Jeffers and now Chris Bell have taken on golf club restaurants and made them work for both Pringle-wearers and non-players.
The latest success story is The Eagle Bar & Grill at Galgorm Castle Golf Club. The beautiful rolling parkland course surrounds the clubhouse, whose roof space is so large you could host an indoor golf tournament in it and in which Mourne Seafood Bar founders Bob McCutcheon and Andy Rea have installed a charming, welcoming dining room with decent furniture, very good lighting and no draughts.
What’s more, the place is staffed by people who care, who want you to enjoy the moment and who have the quiet confidence that can only come from solid and consistent performances from the kitchen.
Sunday evening is a tough test for any restaurant under scrutiny and The Eagle produced the goods. The menu is attractive and far beyond what your average golfer reaches for. Having said that, the golfers are well catered for and have their own Golfers’ Bar Snack Menu. I am a secret bar snack menu lover and am delighted to see it has filled sodas for £4.50, baked fish pie with cheddar mash for £9, pork and leek bangers and mash with onion gravy for the same price and a Golfer’s Ulster Fry for a fiver. There’s chowder, scampi, steak burger and rump steak, too.
There is a more extensive and daring bistro menu where you will find pork fillet, bubble and squeak, black pudding with apple sauce and baby turnips, and loads of other country dishes.
But I’m not writing this for the golfers — they know where to go. This Sunday evening four of us made the 35-minute journey from Belfast to find a choice of wood pigeon, scallops, mackerel and about a dozen other robust Ulster offers, all promising volume and value for money.
What we did not expect was the quality and excitement of the food. A large braised rabbit leg came with smoked bacon bits, peas, baby gem lettuce and a creamy, peppery brandy sauce. This was joyful, mouth-filling, farmer food, the meat falling from the bone in large bite-sized chunks, the lettuce and sauce providing the moisture and saltiness. This was £6, and if you had a few chips with it would have constituted a great dinner by anyone’s most greedy standards.
Irish crab claws with smoked chilli butter, herbs, wild rocket and toasted focaccia sounded a bit lady-like until they arrived and swamped the table. Two large buckets of the things — well, two ample and deep clay dishes — were presented to the adviser and her mother and we estimated a minimum of 30 claws in each. This mountainous meal failed to be completed by either and I asked for boxes to take them home. I’m eating them as I write the next day. Again, the quality of the claws, their moist firmness and flavour, were spot on with no hint of overcooking. A pleasure all the more as the only carapace in sight was the handy black pincer tip allowing elegant handling of the large morsel of meat.
Pan-seared scallops come with lemon and Parmesan polenta, tomato and smoked dressing. It’s a pretty dish and there’s plenty of it.
A very classy chargrilled sirloin steak was very mildly smoky, tender but firm under the knife and charged with beefiness.
The Eagle is a marvel because it does two things remarkably well: golfers’ teas and gourmet dinners. But there’s something else about the place. It's got atmosphere and a genuine sense of old Ulster hospitality about it. And it’s not just the charm of the mid-Antrim accent. There is real slickness in the production and delivery here. Enough to make it a destination restaurant.
Rabbit leg x 2 £12
Duck confit £6.50
Crab claws x 2 £24
Toffee pudding £5
Pint Rebel Red £3.50
Diet Pepsi £1.70