Great catch in Bangor
Two Dutch brothers have made a restaurant out of a boathouse reclaimed from the seafront, and offer the very best of the sea’s bounty, served with a light touch, writes CATHERINE CLEARY
OF ALL THE things you think to pack for a trip to Belfast, suncream isn’t one. So I step off the train into a scorcher in an anorak. The sun seems to set off a shinier Belfast than I remember. The gleaming Titanic building like those 1970s Modernist churches, only on a gargantuan scale. The plaza around it is cleaner than a show house, with every blade of grass perfect.
The new quarter opens Belfast to the sea, like a huge new window thrown open in a darkened house. The holiday feeling continues in the seaside town of Bangor, as we squint at the dark purple bumpy line at the bottom of the sky that is Scotland while leaning on the sun-warmed pier. Behind us the Boathouse Restaurant sits landlocked in a car park. Where now there is asphalt, once there was sea.
It seems more than appropriate that a restaurant in a boathouse hemmed in by reclaimed land is run by two Dutch brothers.
I’m with Joris Minne, the restaurant critic of the Belfast Telegraph, and a man whose Flemish musician father came first to Clare and then to Northern Ireland to beef up the tunes in the Catholic church’s repertoire. With a Dutch father and a French mother, Joris stood out among the five-year-olds when he started school in Armagh in the 1960s. He didn’t speak a word of English. And he knew how to make mayonnaise.
We’re sitting where the boats once did, with a heavy iron ring on the wall above our table where ropes used to slacken and tighten with the swell and suck of the tide. Upstairs there is a tiny bar and the kitchen where Joery Castel is cooking. His brother Jasper, the more curly haired of the two, fronts this small house. The menu is short but elaborate: local ingredients given a light sprinkling of gastronomy.
I’m having the Belfast Lough crab. It’s served cut through with diced red chilli, two pineapple crisps and some pale pineapple pearls (tiny beads of pineapple juice like fruit roe). It’s all beached on a thick-set sea of buttermilk and lemon grass pannacotta, and sprinkled with borage flowers.
The crab is so good it would work without the bells and whistles but the whole effect is good, although the lemon grass doesn’t really get a look in as the stronger flavours dominate. A half-bottle of Muscadet is yeasty and pleasant.
The other starter is great: warm soft pieces of perfect Strangford Lough lobster draped over blobs of hazelnut puree, small cherry heritage tomatoes and a dazzling white tomato meringue.
We stay at sea for the mains, so I’m on the turbot, which has a butter-crisp top and is served with an earthy brown prawn bisque. There’s a summery pea puree, two perfectly cooked langoustines and a prawn ravioli with a salty side of samphire.