Posted: 07 April '11 by Niall
There’s been a lot of talk about The Salty Dog Hotel recently, and Head Chef Derek Creagh in particular. So much so that Kelly and I thought we’d see what the fuss was about. A short tweet later and we were joined by Chilli & Chocolate members Paul and Linda, who’d also been champing at the bit to try Bangor’s newest bistro.
The sun was just starting to set as we parked our car and walked to the hotel and, as we turned the corner, I have to say that we were pretty pleased with our choice of venue for the evening – the three-storey, red-brick hotel sits right on the marina and has a great view of the harbour, a really prime location and makes for an impressive sight.
We were early for our 9pm booking and we thought we’d make the most of our night out by having a drink first. The bar is a very comfortable space, intimate and relaxing, but with a pleasing murmur of conversation in the background. With the rays of the dying sun streaming through the windows, a couple of perfectly pulled pints of Guinness we set before us, along with a glass on mineral water for Kelly (our reluctant designated driver for the evening).
Being partial to a good pint of Guinness, I think it’s worth saying that this one was verging on perfection and definitely the best pint I’ve had in a long time. As portents for the evening go, you couldn’t get much better!
Suitably relaxed and refreshed from our journey to the sea-side town, the Maitre D took us to our table, handed around the menus, and the real work began..
The menu isn’t vast, but all the better for it. There’s clearly been a lot of thought around the choice of dishes and flavours – there’s definitely something there to tantalise even the most jaded of taste-buds.
After a lot of horse-trading to make sure that no-one ordered the same dish (so we could get a taste of everything, between the four of us!), Kelly settled on the Foie Gras with Date and Pear Chutney and Toasted Brioche, while I thought I’d break from the norm and went for the Warm Onion Tart with Pickled Walnuts and Cress Salad.
It has to be said that Kelly’s starter was sublime – not too much butter in the parfait, so the delicious, mild flavour of the Foie Gras and chicken liver was allowed to come through. The consistency was like silk, absolutely smooth and meltingly creamy which, with the jammy chutney, made a very pleasingly start to the meal.
My own choice was just as good, as it turned out. The onions were caramelised but still delicately flavoured, without any acidity from the onions or harsh sweetness from the cooking. The pastry was perfect – there’s no other word for it – not too crisp, and crumbling to butter-y pieces at the touch of the knife. The fresh, pepper-yness of the cress and the nuttiness of the walnuts were well chosen additions too. The dish was one of competing but complementary flavours and textures – well-rounded and very tasty.
The choice of “best starter” has to go to Paul, though. The Wood Pigeon with Carrot Salad, Orange Viniagrette and Nibbed Cocoa was so vibrant and full of flavour – I was only sorry that I just managed to finagle a single forkful from Paul’s plate. The pigeon was served quite rare, wonderfully meaty and gamey, the meaty savouriness of the pigeon enhanced by the slightly bitter cocoa. As with all the starters, Derek took the dish on a bit of a rollercoaster ride of flavour – first came the savoury depths, then the highs of the thick, wafer-thin slivers of sweet carrot and piquant citrus dressing. Wonderful.
Kelly’s Emyvale Duck with Creamed Savoy Cabbage, Root Croquettes and Cherries was an absolute work of art on a plate – thick, pink slices of duck on a bed of verdant cabbage, and dotted with glistening red cherries. The flavours were just as vigorous. The duck was delicious, the skin crisp and the meat succulently medium rare, fatty and rich against the vegetal cabbage flavour. The cherries and jus were sweet, another counterpoint to the rest of the flavours in the dish. There was a final touch, some fancy saucing, a sauce that tasted like gingerbread spread on the side of the plate. The one talking point during the meal was whether the root croquettes “fitted in” – tasty as they were, they provided just a little too much sweetness, together with the gingerbread and cherries.
I chose the Roast Chicken, Truffled Macaroni Gratin, Wild Mushroom, Celeriac Puree and Bordelaise Sauce. Just reading the menu it was clear that this was another of Derek’s well-conceived dishes, with a mouth-watering combination of classic flavours and different textures. The “roast chicken” might sound mundane, but it was far from it – aside from being free-range, the meat was so moist and full of flavour, just incredibly well prepared. I’m really unsure how he managed it, but the flavour of minced wild mushrooms literally sang and, together with the creamy, delicately flavoured celeriac puree, made for a very tasty, well-balanced dish. The macaroni was an interesting inclusion, and a nice alternative to the ubiquitous “creamed potatoes”. However, I thought the sauce was slightly stodgy – not a major complaint (or a complaint at all, to be honest), but a lighter sauce would have helped the pasta.
Once again, special mention has to go to Paul’s choice of the Black Angus Rib-eye, Buttered Green Beans, Chips and Duck Egg Bearnaise. There is nothing so pleasing as the sight of a well-cooked steak, and this rib-eye was glorious. A thick wheel of char-grilled beef, wonderfully blackened on the outside and perfectly pink within, was served on a bed of crisp and fresh green beans, with a glass of richly yellow, aniseed infused sauce on one side. The meat simply fell apart in your mouth, and was full of flavour – absolute dining heaven.
As you may already know, I’m not one for desserts, but I’d already seen several other diners receiving their Valrhona Chocolate Pot with Banana Rum Parfait, and I just had to have it! The dessert is served in a squat kilner jar, a thick layer of dark, unctuous chocolate at the bottom, and topped with a melting square of parfait (which, for all the world, looks like a wonderfully decadent marshmallow). The flavours are in perfect concert, again: the intense chocolate is lifted by the sweet banana, and a slightly alcoholic after-taste leaves a delicious, lingering memory. What was a surprise is that the Chocolate Pot is topped with (what I assume is) popping candy! A great twist, and one that put a smile on everyone’s face.
Kelly ordered the cheesecake, which was a bit of an adventure, as it turned out. Derek has “de-constructed” the cheesecake and taking the components literally. The “cake” is a light, melt-in-the-mouth sponge, while the “cheese” was a layer of almost savoury creamed cheese. Last of all, the dessert was crowned with marble-sized scoops of milk ice-cream, which provided some subtle sweetness to the dish. Kelly is still in some doubt whether she liked this take on the classic cheesecake or not – it really got her thinking, though!
|Warm Onion Tart||£6.50|
|Emyvale Duck with Cherries||£16.00|
|Chicken with Truffled Macaroni||£15.00|
|Bottle of Montepulciano||£18.95|
The Salty Dog Hotel is a wonderful find – not too far from Belfast, but far enough to make you wish that you’d booked a hotel room so you could stay that bit longer.
We could happily have stayed for a few drinks in the bar, a comfortable and relaxed spot – particularly when the acoustic music started later on in the evening.
As welcoming as the bar is, though, it’s the restaurant that steals the show.
Someone had recently asked what our favourite place to eat in Northern Ireland was and, difficult as that question is to answer, The Salty Dog is right up there vying for first place.
The dishes are well-conceived and well-executed, with enough creative twists and quirks to make you think about what the chef is doing, and to make you smile. If every component doesn’t quite hit the mark, it’s more than worth it in order to get the inventiveness of Chef Derek Creagh – an approach to cooking that is rare in Northern Ireland. You can tell that Derek and his team are constantly thinking about the dishes, tweaking and improving them.
The commitment to buying organic and buying local is just as pleasing, and another reason to eat there.. if you needed one.
If you haven’t been to Bangor recently, Kelly and I would recommend you make the trip ASAP.
You can contact the hotel at:
The Salty Dog Hotel
10-12 Seacliff Road,
T: 028 9127 0696
You can also find The Salty Dog Hotel on Google Maps.
Categories: Restaurant Reviews