Sleepy Hollow, Kiln Road, Newtownabbey
Dinner table components including linen, crystal, cutlery and crockery play a far deeper and profound role in my life than I thought. Obviously, drinking beer, wine and cocktails in glasses whose designs have been finely adjusted over the decades to become the perfect vessels, makes all the difference and enhances the enjoyment. It’s like drinking tea out of bone china. It just feels better even if you’re not sure why.
So imagine being Paul Dalrymple who has been a ceramicist and a chef all his working life. Who could be in a better position than Paul to create great dishes in all senses of the word?
Paul’s Sleepy Hollow restaurant just a shove and a kick up the road from Corr’s Corner and minutes from Belfast city centre is the only place I can think of where both the food and the plate, bowl or dish it is served on are matched. Thankfully, his creativity and artistry are governed by practicality so you won’t find any wonky, high sided bowls into which your cutlery will slip and vanish or worse, fall to the floor after slipping from the side where you might have poised them while sipping your wine. I hate when that happens. It disturbs the equilibrium, the luxury of being brought food, the conversation: it is a stresser.
No such risk here with Paul’s flat, low and textured plates. Yes there are little bowls and these are used appropriately. In fact the first dish in Sleepy Hollow’s monthly Forage, Craft Taste culinary event involving a six course tasting menu, is a dainty little braised duck leg tart with plum, hazelnut and Fivemiletown goats cheese served on an upside down bowl reassigned as a tiny pedestal. The tart sets the bar for the rest of the dinner. Small and perfectly formed, the savoury, salty duck meat lies at the bottom of the tartlet awaiting discovery after you’ve gone through the chopped plums, nuts and covering of crème fraiche. The spectrum of flavours in this mouthful is a wonder, leaving you wanting more.
And more comes in a ceramic dish which looks like it has been carved from a small tree trunk with bark and all left on. It has a magical forest fairies touch and this is heightened all the more by what’s in it - a pear tarte tatin. The tarte’s sticky sweetness signals that we may be in dessert mode already but the accompanying celery leaves, dandelion and endives whose welcome, naked bitterness perform a refreshing and invigorating role to remind us that we are still firmly in the early stages of dinner even if the Young Buck is playfully served up as an icecream topping the whole.
A generous piece of line caught skin-on seabream has hints of Robbie Millar’s Shanks featuring spiced, curried cauliflower, seapurslane and sprouting broccoli. The fish is au point, the skin crispy, the meat steaming and pearly. The seapurslane leaves are like tiny tongues, rich and full of iron taste. The curried sauce brings it all together into a warm, almost sweet lushness.
The generosity keeps building and the arrival of a block of medium rare trimmed sirloin with a confit’d shallot and mushroom ketchup confirms Dalrymple’s dedication to hospitality. A wild garlic bun has found its way on the plate and inside it lies a hidden treasure of braised rib. Everything about this dish is exciting: the quality of the dry aged meat, the ketchup and the firm shallot. But the brioche bun infused with wild garlic is a step too far for me. The flavours jar and misfire. The braised rib within, however, is another matter, full of richness it has great depth.
Things have been pretty good so far and then something even better happens: two desserts! Rhubarb and custard, surprisingly refined and then a caramel tart with peanut and carrot. There was really no need for these two but honestly, anyone with a sweet tooth will be thrilled at the idea of having two desserts.
I love Sleepy Hollow. It is time fuller recognition of Paul Dalrymple and his team including chef Josh Crawford and manager John McConnell was acknowledged. This really is special. And it’s open seven days a week!
Forage Craft Taste 6-courses £50
Optional matching beers, wine and drinks: £35