Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review: Overwood - Balloo's new identity but still same great experience

Balloo House, 1 Comber Road, Killinchy. Tel: 028 9754 1210

Overwood, Balloo House in Killinchy
Overwood, Balloo House in Killinchy
Joris Minne

By Joris Minne

The talented Sweeneys have added Overwood to their restaurant and it thrills with fantastic tastes, classy look and a reasonable price.

You've got to admire restaurateurs. They invest big money in creating the restaurant (£100k minimum for a new kitchen and about same for extraction systems), they consider and then commit to every last detail right down to the crystal and cutlery, coffee machines, linen and lighting, tables and chairs, ladies and gents, they create jobs and apprenticeships, recruit staff from a tiny pool of catering and hospitality professionals, negotiate menus with hard-to-negotiate-with chefs, set up accounts with suppliers, lose half their minds securing licences to serve carefully chosen wines, beers, ciders and cocktails and then open the door in the vague hope that someone will come in for dinner. You've got to be crazy, passionate, obsessive and brilliant to have the nerve to do this, see it though and make a success of it.

Which is what Ronan and Jennie Sweeney have been doing at Balloo House for the last 15 years. A recent (and expensive looking) revamp of the posh upstairs restaurant has created an entirely new identity - it is now called Overwood. The original bare stone walls area still evident but there is the new addition of banquet seating and cosier corners. It feels more clubby and less formal than before.

The service downstairs in the more populist pub restaurant has always been the gold standard for top quality Ulster hospitality. This is matched upstairs now, not least because Michael Fletcher, one of the most experienced and talented front of house managers in the business (Coppi, Barking Dog, Dog Track) is here and ably assisted by Robbie Stewart.

And then there's Danni Barry's menu. The adviser and I had eaten downstairs earlier this summer shortly after Chef Barry had taken up position at Balloo. The food was big, chunky and luscious, almost medieval; the suet pudding was stand out. The Overwood menu is equally rustic and robust and, as the name suggests, features much grilling and charring.

Mill Bay oysters are served raw with buttermilk and dill oil, an unusual and unexpectedly balanced combination which works delicately, each component supporting the other. The texture of Millbay oysters is that which you've always wanted as an oyster lover: firm bite, cool, briney, sea-breeze flavour.

The adviser's lobster risotto features grilled sweetcorn and tarragon. Again, the unusual gathering of flavours and textures works beautifully, adding a new dimension to the classic. This is dinner for three and our third opinion is on the citrus cured Ballyhornan scallop (I guess it's a kind of ceviche) with chilled tomato consomme and gooseberries. The surprises continue and suspicions that gooseberries, tomato and citrus with scallops will never work, evaporate at first bite.

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Meanwhile we toy with the crystal. The red wine glasses are the thinnest and barely-there stemmed affairs ever to be held. They look so fragile I mention this to Rob who then shows me in a high-stakes gambler's swagger how flexible they are. These things are important. I like to drink tea in china cups and wine in quality glasses. These glasses enhance the Malbec no end.

The Malbec has been ordered to help the adviser and the third opinion's chateaubriand along its way. The 500g cut is ample, very fairly priced and reflects the instructions for charred and medium/rare accurately. Turbot on the bone is a colossal piece of fish: the fish itself must have been the size of the table. It is meaty, firm and muscular and packed with those heavy turbot flavours. But it's the sides which steal the show: tempura vegetables are crunchy and tasty (only later when the third opinion asks about the accompanying Korean hot sauce, I realise it never appeared), the champ is how I imagine a classic French chef might interpret it making a proper mousseline with scallions. Field mushrooms in chicken butter and garlic are a hedonist's dream and those chips are eye-wateringly sinful, brittle, golden, full of earthy flavour and addictive.

Overwood is a £25-£30 taxi from Belfast. It is not as expensive as some of the finer city restaurants and the wine list is a belter with few bank breakers.

The bill:

Millbay oysters x 12..........................£33

Scallops............................................£8.50

Lobster risotto.....................................£9

Chateaubriand....................................£50

Turbot..................................................£20

Mushrooms......................................£3.50

Chips.................................................£3.50

Scallion mash..................................£3.50

Tempura greens...................................£4

Sancerre..............................................£43

Malbec Luigi Bosca............................£40

Total...................................................£218

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