Belfast Telegraph

Restaurant review The Lobster Pot: Transformed village venue worth the visit

The Harbour, Strangford. Tel: 028 4488 1288

By Joris Minne

Years ago when the Irish hospitality sector was an inconceivable concept, I went to the Lobster Pot in Strangford. In those days there were plenty of pubs and a handful of places which served crisps. But the 20th century Irish lounge bar was not always a place of warmth and hospitality, never mind culinary interest.

A very surly woman greeted my small, youthful party and me with a suspicious look. This kind of welcome was not unusual in the seventies and eighties. We cowered beneath her gaze and tried to be nice. We were young, scruffy and clearly did not fit the ideal customer profile she had in her head. Did she have a table for five, I asked? Without turning around, she shouted: "There's a few frankies out here lookin' a table. What have we got?"

Thankfully, there were no tables available and we escaped, took the ferry and found sanctuary in the Portaferry Hotel and the warm embrace of John Herlihy, god rest him.

A return match last Sunday was an entirely different experience. The brother and I had failed in our bid to kayak along the shores of Strangford Lough because of the weather. Plan B was lunch. Next thing we knew we were driving off the ferry and soon through the door of the Lobster Pot.

How things have changed. Winner of Rural Pub of the Year 2016, it has a bar to the right with a restaurant at the back and another dining room to the left, all friendly, hipster, roaring wood burning stove and wooden tankards. Wooden tankards into which were being poured pints of Coors Light, we noticed.

A group of 60 Game of Thrones fans was in for lunch: would we mind waiting half an hour? The servers were so decent about it, we weren't in any hurry and I was intrigued. Pints of Coors in wooden tankards and bull horns? The attention to detail and the flexibility of interpretation were both impressive and savvy.

The Lobster Pot is unrecognisable from those earlier decades. It's warm, bright, cosy, friendly, clean, the kind of place it should have been all those years ago. Strangford must surely be one of the prettiest harbour villages in Ireland. Reliance on the Cuan for food was always rewarded with a robust and voluminous experience and while the Lobster Pot might not win too many prizes on finesse, its food is very good too.

Oddly and paradoxically, the apologetic announcement by the server that there was no lobster today because of bad weather, seemed to enhance the place significantly. You go to the Lobster Pot and expect lobster to be served. But now you know for sure just how fresh it is because if the pots can't be lifted, then none is available. None of your Alaskan or Norwegian frozen stuff here.

The menu is thankfully well themed and full of fish: grilled whole sole, scampi, mussels, battered cod (and Kilkeel lobster served in many different ways when it's available) as well as excellent Marlfield chicken from just across the lough. The chicken from Marlfield Farm is among the best in the north, full of flavour and great texture.

Marty Johnston's "smoked haddock fritters" arrive as starters but turn out to be fish cakes. Too much potato drowns out the smoked haddock although the mustard mayo they come with is excellent.

Whole grilled sole comes with samphire, Portavogie prawns and salad. The generosity of the dish reverses my fear that the potato-saturated "fritters" promised parsimony.

The fish is perfectly cooked, falling off the bone, shiny and white, soft and sweet. The contrasting garlic prawns and salty brown butter are a great match. A bowl of chowder for the brother goes down very well. Not too spuddy, plenty of light creaminess and generous chunks of salmon, haddock and other undefinables.

The Lobster Pot is transformed. It is worth including on your itinerary if you happen to be in the area.

The bill

Haddock fritters x 2 ..........................£15

Seafood chowder............................£8.95

Whole grilled sole...........................14.95

Cheese..............................................£6.50

Apple crumble.................................£5.50

Coffee x 3.........................................£7.50

Diet coke x 2....................................£3.20

Pint Guinness x 2..................................£7

Total: ..............................................£68.60

Belfast Telegraph

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